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Updated: September 16, 2012 16:43 IST

Is your child dyssemic?

JAISHRI RAMAKRISHNAN
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Lonely and Friendliness: Counselling could change the attitude of such children
Lonely and Friendliness: Counselling could change the attitude of such children

Should parents brush aside their child’s temper tantrums or inability to socialise as merely odd behaviour? Or does it indicate a more complex problem that may need expert help?

Rewind to your school days. How many children can you recall who either “just didn't get it” or were simply considered “crazy or weird”? You would remember several. However, what you probably didn't notice was their daily struggle for acceptance by their peers. The fact is the children with deficit social skills would often be bullied by their peers and friends.

Usually, such children can be heard saying 'no one is my friend'. Anger and temper tantrums are common and the parents have to intervene to help them make friends or sort out problems.

Whether we are quirky, talented, autistic, or ordinary, we all need to navigate in this social world. Though we need not be gregarious, we need to develop the skill to manage relationships. That is because most of our activities involve interacting with people. Even when we don’t verbalise, we communicate socially. In fact, between 60-70 per cent of all communication is non-verbal.

When this is the case, one can imagine how inadequate children with deficit social skills would feel. This deficit in processing non-verbal body language (non-verbal cues) is called ‘dyssemia’.

Children with dyssemia are often described by their parents and teachers as tactless. Other children may call them “stupid”, though they may be of average or above average intelligence. Children with dyssemia usually have difficulty in perceiving danger; they are unable to gauge the consequences of their behaviour. They are lonely, confused, anxious and bewildered. To put it simply, they are “different.” Their non-verbal communication skills are inconsistent; they may be accurate with one form of non-verbal communication on one day, but completely inaccurate the very next day!

What to look out for

* Children with dyssemia stand too close and touch us in annoying ways.

* They laugh too loud or at the wrong times.

* They make stupid or embarrassing remarks.

* They don't seem to get the message even when given hints or do not understand when told outright to behave differently.

* They mistake friendly actions for hostile ones and feel deeply hurt.

* Their facial expressions are not in harmony with what they or others say.

* Their appearance is seriously out of step with what’s in vogue and they don't dress appropriately for an occasion.

* They are known to stare at people, stalk people, or do something that annoys others or make them feel uncomfortable.

Dyssemia is considered different behaviour rather than a disability. It is not classified as a standard medical condition. Often, dyssemia springs from cultural differences; at other times, it is an offshoot of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). However, being different can be devastating and is often the root of social and occupational troubles. Sometimes, persons with mild Asperger’s Syndrome or (AS) or social anxiety disorder also exhibit the characteristics of dyssemia.

Non-verbal communication refers to

* interpersonal distance

* gestures and postures

* facial expression

* paralinguistics (voice, tone, pitch)

* style of dress (objectics)

Dyssemia is intimidating and frustrating both for the child and the others around. The situation is compounded when the child also has Asperger’s or ADHD. Very often these children have few or no friends. And this is usually attributed to one or some of the symptoms mentioned above, but not to 'dyssemia'. Life is miserable for these children and their misery may follow them into adulthood. Coping with day-to-day activities is 'difficult'. This results in arguments at home, school and elsewhere.

Tackling the problem

The first step is to teach basic social skills — saying hello, thank you and making polite conversation. These skills need to be reinforced till they are imbibed. This kind of social etiquette is easily imbibed by children who are just three years old through observational learning, whereas even a ten-year-old child with dyssemia has to be repeatedly taught these skills.

Children with dyssemia do not have the patience to listen; parents need to learn how to teach them listening skills. Dyssemics are impulsive; they perceive situations through what they think they have heard and at once react. They have to be sat down and made to listen carefully to the full situation, making eye contact and reading the expressions and body language.

They should be taught not to use their hands unnecessarily. This reduces fidgeting and irritating others by pinching/hitting them or meddling with their things.

TRAFFIC SIGNAL

This technique is employed by professionals involved in helping children with dyssemia.

RED (Stop) The child is encouraged to ‘stop’ and perceive the situation. It could be a teacher’s remark or a friend was ‘rude’ to him.

AMBER (Pause) The child is helped to analyse the situation, instead of reacting impulsively.

GREEN (Go) He is taught to respond to a question or situation, rather than flying into a rage, resorting to physical abuse or throwing things around.

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