A chapter on body language and boundaries by Marc Segar, taken from his book, Survival Guide for People Living With Asperger's Syndrome


From Survival Guide for People living with Asperger's Syndrome

by Marc Segar



Body language doesn't just include gestures, it also includes facial expressions, eye contact and tone of voice and is sometimes affected by what you are wearing.


Some people may have body language down to a fine art but many people find it difficult.


Many people constantly feel paranoid about their own body language, including those who are extremely good at it.


Showing the wrong emotion or laughing at the wrong time can be embarrassing. You may do this if you're thinking about one thing and the people around you are talking about something else. If someone reacts to this, tell them that your mind was else-where.


If someone talks to you about something they find emotional and you don't respond to their body language with your own, they might think you are lacking empathy or that you don't really care.


If someone tells you that you do not give enough body language, you might have to exaggerate it in order to emphasize what you say, but not too much. This will at first feel artificial.


Part of body language includes courtesy, things like "'scuse me", "please", "thanks" , "cheers" , "see-ye" and being the first to say "hi". It is often an effort to say these things but then perhaps courtesy is supposed to be an effort. I have given informal courtesies here (not over-polite) but the politeness of the courtesies you choose may have to depend on the people you are with.


We all have to be careful about standing behind someone when they can't see us, because if they turn round they might get a fright. This is especially important if you are large or tall. In a densely crowded bus or train, however, you might not be able to help it.


It can often be an effort to have a shower or a bath three times a week and to wear deodorant but it is much easier to talk to people if you feel you are clean and if you cannot be smelt. Remember, if you smell you might not be aware of it.


If you are too good at body language, or you look too cool, people are less likely to make exceptions for you if you do something wrong without knowing it.


If you are an adult, and especially if you are a large one, it is better to avoid running in the street unless the street is practically empty. Running for a bus or a train is all right if it will save you having to wait for another half an hour or you are in a hurry to get somewhere. On the other hand, if you are going for a jog then wear shorts or track-suit trousers so that people can see you are running for the purpose of getting exercise and hopefully don't feel intimidated.


When you see someone in the street who you know, it can sometimes be awkward; but to exchange glances, smile slightly and raise eyebrows to each other is usually enough.


Misunderstandings other people might have about you

If you have difficulties with your eye-contact or body language, some people might mistake you for being shifty or dishonest. If they think this they are probably wrong.

If you don't react to other peoples body language with your own, they might mistake you for being unsympathetic.


Many people might make the mistake of thinking that you are unintelligent. If this is because you rarely get a chance to show them signs of intelligence, there may be little you can do except to let them accidentally see you doing something you're good at, whether they like it or not, just as a one off. They might decide not to comment even though they have seen your talent.


If you try to come across as being cooler, wittier, tougher and more confident than other people then whenever you break an unwritten rule, people might mistake it for nastiness. In this case, it might be in your best interest to drop your pretence.



Boundaries are all about not getting too close to someone yet not being too far away.


The correct boundaries will depend on the person you are talking to and also the time and place.


If there is a physical attraction between you and someone else you will need give off AND read the correct signals. To do this, the simplest rule to work by is that open gestures and gestures turned towards someone tend to mean attraction whereas closed gestures and gestures which are turned away from someone tend to mean avoidance.


There is something to be aware of called the approach-avoidance trap. Quite often we need to be decisive about whether we are going to approach someone, walk away or do neither.


Also, there is the problem of recognizing other people's territory. If, in some one-off situation, you unknowingly encroach on what someone else considers to be their territory, this can sometimes get you into big trouble. For example, at one time I lent a listening ear to a woman living in a house full of children. She was distraught because her over possessive and just out of prison boyfriend had just stormed out for no particular reason. I didn't realize that from his point of view it was his territory. Fortunately my personal safety was spared because he didn't come back until the next day. If after you make this kind of mistake, you later have it explained to you, it can all start to look so obvious.


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Body language observation is crucial for aspies living in a non-Aspergers world