Teaching Conversation to a Child with Autism
Teaching conversation to a child or adult within the Autism Spectrum of Disorders can be a challenge. Whether it be an individual with severe Autism or a high functioning individual with Asperger Syndrome, conversation and social skills would have to be the two skills that are the most difficult to teach.
How do we Learn Conversation and Social Skills?
How do you go about teaching something that for most of us is something that we just pick up as we go along? There is no curriculum or rigid protocols to follow as each interaction situation lends itself to personal translation and action, depending on the individuals perspective! It is probably one of the hardest things to teach, but not impossible!
We may not be able to teach a person with Autism or Asperger’s everything about conversation and socialising but we can try to give them the idea of what a conversation is and some loose rules to follow.
Conversation in many cases is just small talk, a way to break the uncomfortable silence between two or more persons. However in many cases it is a way to communicate information and to find out about another person, it can also be entertaining, however now days with electronic information and entertainment at our fingertips conversation is fast becoming obsolete.
To many persons on the Autism Spectrum of Disorders conversation may just seem like a waste of time, and I can relate to that. It is far easier to just say what we have to and not have to bother with small talk and niceties, but what would our world be like without those “small details”?
So here are some examples of what we have been doing to teach our daughter conversation. She has a fairly good vocabulary and can read, spell and tell us when she wants something – these are skills that can be taught, and we have largely used ABA style techniques to achieve this, however Isy can not start or carry on a conversation, it’s like – why bother! – too hard!
RDI or Relationship Development Intervention can be very useful for this task as it mainly focuses on developing friendships and social skills, and like I always say, if you can make it fun they will just soak it up.
Tips for Teaching Conversation to a Child with Autism
- Ask them lots of questions, when they come home from school or from an outing – whatever – ask them lots of questions and help them answer, by prompting, if you have to.
- Assimilate their favourite characters if they have any. Isy loves the Bananas in Pajamas and associated characters, we often pretend to be the Bananas eg Isy is B2 and I am B1. I can often start a short conversation by saying – “are you thinking what I am thinking B2” and so on it goes. Isy can relate to that as she sees the Bananas having conversations on TV etc and says thing they often say – it’s a start!.
- Tell them stories and get them to interact. I tell Isy a little story every night, she usually sets the subject and I just make it up as I go, however I always include her in the story, usually as a character, so she has to play a part, and in the story there will always be a conversation between the main characters – us!
- Always answer their questions no matter what they ask. And try to get them to answer their own questions by asking them why do they think that is? Or just ask another question back!
- Include them where possible in conversations with others. In other words don’t exclude them! Encourage them to partake, even if what they say doesn’t make sense or is not relevant, try and turn it around so it is relevant!
- There’s an app for that! – Isy loves to record herself saying things and then playing it back. There are quite a few ipad apps and computer “apps” that can either directly record and play back or comically play back what you say such as Talking Tom, this is actually quite powerful for teaching them language and conversation skills as it encourages them to talk. Make it fun and anything is possible!
- Get them to answer phone calls and say a few words, like “hello who is it – here’s my mum”. When I work away I always ring home and try encourage Isy to say a few words, I ask a lot of questions and try to strike up conversation on any subject!
These are just a few tips on what we do to encourage conversation with Isy. It is quite incredible what individuals in the Autism Spectrum of Disorders are capable of. They have the ability of being able to soak up knowledge and skills and have incredible memory, all without the everyday distractions that we experience. Their level of focus can in some ways be extreme, however it can be a challenge to direct that focus on what we deem necessary for their development. They can usually pick up skills and knowledge on things we don’t find important, however who’s to say it’s not important for them!
As always with teaching and learning – make it fun and the possibilities are endless!
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