Having and carrying on a conversation is something we do in our daily lives, and it might be something seemingly easy for most of us. However, individuals with autism who struggle with social and communication skills may find holding a conversation with others a great challenge. This article will share some tips on how to help and support them in learning the flow of conversations.
Motivation is always emphasised when it comes to learning and picking up skills (not just social skills). When children are motivated, they are encouraged to try continuously. As such, it is important to understand what your child’s interests are.
Using their favourite toy, food or item can serve as a great reinforcer to motivate them to talk, to ask questions, to reply, etc. Always remember to praise or reward them when they make attempts to communicate. For instance, say, “That’s a good question!” or “Good job asking me for help!”
Another great way to encourage and further engage them in conversations is to choose topics of interests of their preference. Children with autism tend to have certain fixations, which can end up being a useful starting point for engaging in discussions.
2. Provide opportunities and support
“With practice comes mastery”. More opportunities to converse means more practice, which means being able to work on and improve their communication skills. Parents can engage their children in conversations anywhere and any time – e.g. in the playground, in the supermarket when doing grocery shopping, in the car on the way to school, etc.
Be sure to provide support based on your child’s level. It is important to note that the pace of the conversation needs to be at the level which the child can maintain and follow. For us, processing sentences as we hear them is second nature and happens almost instantly but your child may have to work it out in steps. This means that you may have to give them more time to process than you would give a neurotypical.
If your child is not ready to hold a conversation yet, the use of social stories, videos and role playing are some fun ways to engage them and help them learn. If prompts are used as a form of support, ensure that you fade them away, so your child will not overly depend on them and learn to communicate independently instead.
It is important for children to be able to generalise the skills learnt to other people, settings and activities. E.g. If a child is only able to talk to his mother but not to others, there could be an issue in generalising the skill.
Practice communication skills with various people (e.g. within the family, with peers of their age, etc.), in various settings (e.g. school, playground, home, etc.) and in various situations (e.g. during meals, playtime, etc.) to ensure a higher chance of the child generalising the skill across various situations.
Written by Winnie.