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Dyssemia is a term coined by psychologists Marshall Duke and Stephen Nowicki in their 1992 book, Helping The Child Who Doesn't Fit In, to decipher the hidden dimensions of social rejection, and describe difficulties with receptive and/or expressive nonverbal communication. The term comes from the Greek dys (difficulty) and semia (signal). These difficulties go beyond problems with body language and motor skills. “A classic set of studies by Albert Mehrabian showed that in face-to-face interactions, 55 percent of the emotional meaning of a message is expressed through facial, postural, and gestural means, and 38 percent of the emotional meaning is transmitted through the tone of voice. Only seven percent of the emotional meaning is actually expressed with words.”[1] Dyssemic persons exhibit difficulties with the acquisition and use of nonverbal cues in interpersonal relationships. Dyssemia represents the social dysfunction aspect of Nonverbal Learning Disorder.

Symptoms of childhood dyssemia Edit

Jane E. Brody of The New York Times describes in the back cover of the Nowicki-Duke book[2] the sufferers of this condition: “We’ve all known children like this:

  • they 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 when given a broad hint or even told outright to behave differently;
  • they mistake friendly actions for hostile ones, or vice versa;
  • they move too slowly, or too fast, for everyone else;
  • their facial expressions don’t jibe with what they or others are saying, or
  • their appearance is seriously out of step with current fashions, they don't dress well for the occasion, etc.
  • they are known to stare at people, stalk people, or do something that annoys other people or make them feel uncomfortable
  • they have problem dating and interacting with the opposite sex in a romantic way. Many dyssemics are love shy."

Children with dyssemia fail to appropriately read (decode) and/or produce (encode) nonverbal communication or interpersonal information, the language of relationships, as asserted by Nowicki and Duke.[2] Dyssemic individuals exhibit problems with facial expressions, gestures, body posture, pitch and tone of voice, touch and interpersonal space, mood, adaptive manners, punctuality, functioning and performing in rhythm with the environment, clothing, make-up and hairdo style. Dyssemia sufferers tend to lack various skills indicative of emotional intelligence (EQ). Dyssemia is the nonverbal communication aspect of Nonverbal Learning Disorders. More often than not, dyssemia concurs with dyspraxia a neurological aspect of nonverbal disorders consisting in a lack of coordination of body movements and mannerisms. Depending on the symptoms, dyssemia could be diagnosed as social anxiety or Communication Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

Dyssemic adults Edit

The social interactions of dyssemic adults tend to be immature and complex, even though their nonrelational reasoning ranges from normal to gifted. Dyssemic individuals exhibit varying degrees of social awkwardness and various types of nonverbal communication difficulties. Some might only have trouble with reception or expression alone, while others struggle with both. Severity fluctuates among individuals; difficulty does not necessarily equate to total inability, nor occur in all situations. Occasionally, expressive difficulty may only be a delay between the emotion and the facial muscles. Socially-awkward adults suffering from nonverbal shortcomings often report feeling "a little out of it socially" or feeling "left out."[3] There is always a danger that over time, these frustrations could exacerbate a sense of grief and despair. Dyssemic adults frequently experience success in temporary or accidental situations, but their sense of success can be short-lived, returning to an often common pattern of disappointment and self-reproach. Many times dyssemic individuals may say something in a way they had not intended and worry about the consequences. Dyssemic adults may sometimes struggle with interpreting the feelings or social interests of new acquaintances, causing potential resentment and/or rejection. They also may have difficulty with subtler aspects of social interaction, for example, timing and opportunity. This may aggravate the situation, baffling acquaintances, coworkers, and even relatives. Dyssemic individuals may also become targets of adult bullies. If dyssemic adults are in an environment or situation with adequate verbal input or other cues, however, they have a frame for understanding or constructing appropriate responses, and these problems can be greatly reduced.

There is presently little research on adults with dyssemia/NLD compared to the research on children, making it difficult to treat medically. Until more adults are included in the research on diagnosis and treatment, misperceptions may occur and their quality of life may deteriorate over time into loneliness, isolation, anger, and even aggression as a result of a lack of understanding on the part of both populations. However, it may be treated socially to some extent. Through intense observation or asking questions, as of a supportive friend or colleague, the individual with dyssemia can often eventually "pass" in most situations once he or she has learned the typical gestures for a given situation. Since many adults with dyssemia or NLD are quite competent in reading or writing, it is often helpful to clarify one's communication using fully-worded sentences, or supplementing gestures or facial expressions with a verbal clue as to meaning. Social anxiety or social phobia are medical classifications that can be used to designate nonverbal communication problems; however, dyssemia is not an anxiety or phobia when it applies to NLD or specific brain damage, for example to the right hemisphere. Chronic dyssemia is a condition that some neurologists term social-emotional processing disorder (SEPD).

A difference rather than a disability Edit

Dyssemia is considered a difference rather than a disability; as such, it is not classified as a standard medical condition. Many times dyssemia springs from cultural differences; other times, dyssemia constitutes an offshoot of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). However, the differences can be devastating. Problems associated with dyssemia in the establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships are often at the root of people's social and occupational troubles. Sometimes, persons affected with mild Asperger syndrome (AS) also struggle with characteristics of dyssemia. Dyssemia can be remediated through a variety of programs designed to assess its presence and alter its adverse impact. Such programs, not unlike acculturation, emphasize virtual and social learning.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Nowicki, S. & Duke, M. (1992). Helping the Child Who Doesn't Fit In. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, p. 7.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nowicki, S. & Duke, M. (1992). Helping the Child Who Doesn't Fit In. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers.
  3. Nowicki, S. & Duke, M. (2002). Will I Ever Fit In? - The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Adult Dyssemia. Riverside, NJ: Free Press, Simon & Schuster.
  • Duke, M.P., Martin, E.A., & Nowicki, S. (1996). Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.
  • Feldman, R.S. & Rimé, B., Editors. (1991, 2000). Fundamentals of Nonverbal Behavior: Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Manoach, D. S., Weintraub, S., Daffner, K. R., & Scinto, L. F. M. (1997). Deficient antisaccades in the social-emotional processing disorder. Neuroreport, 8(4) pp. 901-905 (24 ref.) ISSN 0959-4965. Hagerstown, MD: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins Publishers.
  • Phillips, M. (2004). "Facial processing deficits and social dysfunction: How are they related?", Brain 127(8) pp. 1691-1692.
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