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Social Communication for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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In the last section, we discussed an excerpt of Carlin Flora’s article, "The Kiriana Conundrum," about a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Do you remember Lynette, from section 10? She stated to me, "I’m still worried about my little girl, Mia. Playing games is one thing, but it’s an entirely different thing trying to talk to her. What if she can’t make conversation with other children?"
I stated, "I have found that there are 6 parts to making conversation. These include starting a conversation, food talk, commenting, learning to be appropriate, starting conversations appropriately and making empathetic responses."
As you read this section. think about how these techniques compare with those you use.
6 Parts to Making Conversation
♦ Part 1 - Starting a Conversation
I stated, "First, let’s discuss starting a conversation. Lynette will probably need to learn specific cues for entering into or starting a conversation. You can teach her to listen for a pause in a conversation between others; When neither person is saying something for a moment, that might be a good time to strike up a conversation. Lynette may also not know how to get someone’s attention. She can learn to tap other children on the shoulder. During these initial stages, a teacher or Lynette’s aide may need to prompt her to initiate interaction."
Would you agree that autistic children can learn to initiate interaction through prompting? Penny stated, "But starting a conversation is one thing. Keeping it going is another."
♦ Part 2 - Food Talk
I stated, "There are several ways to keep a conversation going. Second, let’s discuss food talk. From the parents of other autistic children I see, I’ve learned that kids seem to make a lot of conversation around food at lunch. Food can provide visual cues for Lynette, and provide something simple and concrete to talk about. If Lynette’s aide is with her, the aide might prompt her to say, ‘I have gummies in my lunch today!’ or even just ‘Gummies!’ The aide can also prompt Lynette to talk about food she has at home or what food looks like. Also, you may have noticed that children aren’t always polite in their discussions of food. For example, ‘Ew, what’s that? It looks gross!’ You won’t likely need to force your child to be polite all the time. You can practice food talk like this at home."
Have you found as I have, that discussion about food is an effective way to help autistic children make conversation?
♦ Part 3 - Commenting
I continued, stating, "Third, in addition to starting conversation and food talk, let’s discuss commenting. Have you noticed that kids seem to comment a lot? I have found that children with autism don’t often initiate conversations by making a spontaneous comment, so this is something you may need to teach Lynette. You can start by teaching her to say, ‘Look!’ to you, right before she engages in a favorite activity or plays with a favorite toy. That way, a natural reward is tied into the learning activity. If Lynette’s aide prompts her to say, ‘Look!’ and she gets to do something she enjoys, she will make a connection and want to keep saying it. Once she has learned ‘look,’ Lynette can be taught to talk about her personal state, such as ‘I’m tired,’ or ‘I’m having fun’…etc. You can prompt Lynette to express these feelings, and with practice she can learn to use these verbal expressions on her own. You might also find it helpful to be aware of the lingo used by Lynette’s friends so she can learn it too."
♦ Part 4 - Learning to be Appropriate
Fourth, let’s discuss learning to be appropriate. Children with autism who have communication delays may not have the advantage of fully understanding when you try to explain subtle social clues. Further, even if they do understand the particular situation, they may not generalize it to another. So they may still be making social faux pas even when they’re older, and people who will overlook something rude that a two-year-old says may not take it well when it comes from a ten-year-old.
So you need to teach your child the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate comment and practice the appropriate social conversation as frequently and in as many different contexts as possible. And be prepared to explain once in a while that you’re still working on teaching your child social graces, in case there’s a blunder.
♦ Part 5 - Starting Conversations Appropriately
Fifth, let’s discuss starting conversations appropriately. You can help Lynette learn appropriate ways to start a conversation. One way is to use visual cues. Teach Lynette to pick out something someone is wearing and say something nice about it, like ‘That’s a nice necklace,’ or ‘I like your shirt.’ It may be a good idea to practice this a lot at home first. You can sit with Lynette and let a few seconds of silence be a cue that she should start up a conversation and then prompt her to say something complimentary.
Be careful not to go overboard, though. I once had a client who would complement non-stop when she met new people, and had to learn to wait for a different comment in response. Another simple conversation topic is favorite things. Lynette can learn to ask, ‘What’s your favorite food?’ or ‘What’s your favorite TV show?’ Simple questions can lead to conversation. Of course, that conversation has to be maintained." Would you agree that complimenting can be a useful way to help autistic children start a conversation?
♦ Part 6 - Making Empathetic Responses
Penny stated, "But listening can be so hard for an autistic child. Lynette has a hard time concentrating on all of that at once!"
I stated, "Sixth, let’s discuss making empathetic responses. When having a conversation with someone, you will probably want to teach Lynette to listen, despite how much work it can be. I have found that children with autism don’t always show a lot of empathy in their interactions, but they can be taught to make empathetic responses to another person. The first thing I would teach is for Lynette to listen attentively to the conversational partner.
"Sometimes you might have to check to make sure she’s listening by having her repeat what the other person said, and other times it may only be necessary to remind her to listen. This can be accomplished by simply asking Lynette what the person said. If Lynette didn’t listen, you can prompt her to ask, ‘What did you say?’ or just ‘What?’ In addition to listening, Lynette will need to learn to respond appropriately and empathetically, so that the person she’s talking to knows that she’s genuinely interested."
Have you found as I have, that learning empathetic comments is a good way to help autistic children learn to listen? Do you have the parent of an autistic client who has difficulty starting and maintaining conversations? Would playing this section for him or her be helpful?
In this section, we discussed 6 Parts to Making Conversation. These included starting a conversation, food talk, commenting, learning to be appropriate, starting conversations appropriately and making empathetic responses.
In the next section, we will discuss 4 Parts to Making Friends and Play Dates. This will include finding someone with potential, the initial phone call, starting short and planning a longer play date.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Barnard-Brak, L., Richman, D. M., Chesnut, S. R., & Little, T. D. (2016). Social Communication Questionnaire scoring procedures for autism spectrum disorder and the prevalence of potential social communication disorder in ASD. School Psychology Quarterly, 31(4), 522–533.
Gordon, K., Pasco, G., McElduff, F., Wade, A., Howlin, P., & Charman, T. (2011). A communication-based intervention for nonverbal children with autism: What changes? Who benefits? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(4), 447–457.
Winder, B. M., Wozniak, R. H., Parladé, M. V., & Iverson, J. M. (2013). Spontaneous initiation of communication in infants at low and heightened risk for autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology, 49(10), 1931–1942.
What are 6 parts to making conversation?
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