Teaching Students How to End Conversations


Many students with ASD find social situations, such as conversations with peers or teachers, to be extremely difficult. Students with ASD do not instinctively learn social rules and conventions, as the skills associated with engaging in a conversation are the same skills individuals with ASD often have difficulty with- social communication, social interaction and restrictive interests (Brady, 2012). Therefore, skills such as appropriately initiating, maintaining and ending a conversation may need to be explicitly taught. Generally, a lot of emphasis is placed on initiating conversations, turn taking, responding appropriately, staying on topic and maintaining eye contact. However, it is equally important to learn how to end or leave conservations appropriately.

Ending a Conversation

There are two reasons why someone would want to end a conversation. This could be because the conversation doesn’t interest them, or because they need to leave to go somewhere. It is important to teach individuals that they should provide a clue that the conversation is about to end and not to just end it abruptly. Baker (2003) outlines a plan for ending a conversation that involves:

1) deciding you need to end a conversation,
2) asking one more follow- up question or making one more on- topic comment,
3) choosing an appropriate way to end a conversation (see below) and
4) saying a farewell (see below) and walking away.

Examples of How to End a Conversation

“I have to leave now because I am late.”
“I have to leave now because I have some other things to do.”
“I liked talking to you but I have to go now.”

Examples of Farewells

“See you later”
“I have to leave now because I have some other things to do.”
“I liked talking to you but I have to go now.”

Recognizing Non-Verbal and Verbal Cues

Since individuals with ASD have a difficult time reading other people’s body language, they may not recognize that someone is trying to end a conversation with them. Therefore, it is important to teach individuals with ASD the various non-verbal and verbal cues that indicate that someone is trying to end a conversation. Thankfully, research has shown that individuals with ASD can be taught to read emotions, recognize non-verbal cues and to take other people’s perspectives (Bellini, 2003). It is important that individuals with ASD are given many opportunities, through both role- play and real- life situations, to learn to recognize these cues.

Some examples of non-verbal cues include:
-Taking keys out of a pocket or purse
-Looking at a watch
-Turning body away
-Not asking questions back
-Saying they have something else to do
-Not fully interested in the conversation
-Looking around at other objects
-Walking away
It could also be helpful to teach the individual with ASD to offer their conversational partner an ‘out’ if they are unsure about whether the conversation should continue. For example, they could say, “Do you have time to talk now?” or “Do you have to get going somewhere?”

Assessing Conversation Skills to Target

Collecting data before teaching new skills is always helpful; first to be able to identify which skills need to be taught and then to assess if and when the skill has been learned.
Examples of rating scales and checklists can be found in:
Bellini, S. (2006). Building social relationships: A systematic approach to teaching social interaction skills to children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other social difficulties. Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
Leon-Guerrero, R., Matsumoto, C., & Martin, J. (2011). Show me the data! Data-based instructional decisions made simple and easy. Kansas: AAPC Publishing.
McKinnon, K., & Krempa, J. (2002). Social skills solutions: A hands- on manual for teaching social skills to children with autism. New York: DRL Books, Inc

Strategies to Promote Conversation Skill Acquisition

Understanding and Recognizing Others’ Thoughts, Feelings and Emotions:
Use pictures, video and real- life situations to help individuals recognize the states of mind of other people and how to interpret them. Resources for this include:
Spotlight on Social Skills Elementary: Emotions and Non- Verbal Language (LoGiudice & Johnson, 2009)
Spotlight on Social Skills Adolescent: Emotions and Non- Verbal Language (LoGiudice & Johnson, 2009)
Building Social Relationships (Bellini, 2006)

Social Narratives:

Social Narratives are written examples of social situations in which a student is having difficulty, or with which they may have difficulty with in the future. They are individualized to the student’s needs and provide written and visual information. Resources include:
The New Social Story Book (Gray, 2010)
Social Narratives https://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/node/589
Visual Supports for People with Autism (Cohen & Sloan, 2007)

Social Scripts/ Comics:

Social Scripts provide written information about certain things that could be said in specific social situations. They are helpful to provide the student with appropriate ways to communicate. Social Scripts could also be introduced in the form of a comic, if that is more appealing to the student. Resources:
Social Skills Comics (Bennett, 2011)
Comic Strip Conversations (Gray, 1994)

Social Autopsies:

A social autopsy is a strategy that uses a past social faux-pas as a learning strategy to improve social skills. Adults help the student dissect the incident and brainstorm ways to improve for next time. A resource for this is:


Use games and real- life role- playing to aid individuals learn to ask questions, take turns during a conversations, recognize non-verbal cues, and to use appropriate conversation enders and farewells.
Building Social Relationships (Bellini, 2006)
Spotlight on Social Skills: Elementary (LoGiudice & Johnson, 2009)
Spotlight on Social Skills: Adolescents (LoGiudice & Johnson, 2009)
Social Skills Training (Baker, 2003)

Video Modeling:

Individuals watch a video demonstration of a target behaviour and then imitate the behaviour they saw. The models can be peers, adults or the individual themselves.
Building Social Relationships (Bellini, 2006)
Model Me Kids http://www.modelmekids.com/
Watch Me Learn http://www.watchmelearn.com/