Social-communication difficulties are a hallmark of Autism Spectrum Disorders. One significant area impacted by social-communication challenges is students’ conversation skills.
Aspects of conversations that students might need support include:
- Starting a conversation
- Engaging in an appropriate topic for conversation
- Maintaining a topic and switching topics
- Showing interest in others
- Turn taking
- Ending a conversation
To help students participate in successful two-way conversations with peers, try the following strategies for supporting conversation skills.
Conversation Starters and Talking Sticks
Conversation Starters and Talking Sticks are visual strategies that provide students with written questions with which to generate conversation. With these tools, students learn to initiate conversation as well as answer typical conversational questions. Most significantly, they learn to stay on topic by practicing generating their own responses and asking follow-up questions.
Each set includes six different topics with a yellow card signifying the start of each new topic for immediate access.
The Talking Sticks strategy is adapted from the resource From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in k-12 Inclusive Classrooms by Paula Kluth and Shiela Danaher. Questions with which to start conversations are written on popsicle sticks that students draw from a cup. This strategy can be used in a classroom, with a small group, or during one-to-one social skills intervention.
Conversation Books is an idea adapted from Linda Hodgon’s Six Tips for Teaching Conversation Skills with Visual Strategies: Working with Autism Spectrum Disorders & Related Communication & Social Skill Challenges. This strategy involves creating a wallet or pocket-sized photo album that student can carry with them. It should include photos of people, activities, and recent events in their lives as reminders for what to talk about. The books also help communication partners by providing cues for what to ask about.
Hodgon also discusses the use of People Books, in which each person has their own page. Choose individuals with whom the student interacts regularly; include facts about that person, such as interests and hobbies, as well as questions to ask that person. People Books can be used to prime students about what to say prior to starting a conversation with someone, or as support during a conversation when practicing conversation skills.
Take home message
Using visual supports for conversations, such as those described above, will enable students with ASD to engage in conversations with peers independently!
For more ideas about facilitating students’ conversation skills, check out the following elearning videos:
Circle Time Conversation
Conversation and topic maintenance
Sharing information during conversations
Check out these references for information about the visual strategies described above:
Hodgon, L.A. (2007). Six Tips for Teaching Conversation Skills with Visual Strategies: Working with Autism Spectrum Disorders & Related Communication & Social Skill Challenges
Kluth, P. & Danaher. S. (2010) From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in K-12 Classrooms. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in K-12 Inclusive Classrooms 1st Edition