Many children and teenagers (especially those on the Autism Spectrum) struggle to understand the implied rules necessary for navigating social interactions. Whereas most children learn these rules naturally by observing others, some may only be able to acquire these rules through direct instruction. If there are certain tasks that the child does not always complete successfully, such as ending conversations politely, parents can help by explaining exactly why the response was inappropriate and how the child can succeed in the future. Writing scripts for common social situations and role-playing correct use of social communication may be helpful for learning social rules. The following are tips for interacting in common social situations.
Starting a Conversation with Someone You Know
When you see someone for the first time during the day, ask: “How are you?”
Ask about the:
i. Past: “How was your ____?” (e.g. class, weekend)
ii. Present: “What are you ____?” (e.g. doing, eating, reading)
iii. Future: “What are you going to do ___?” (e.g. after school, this weekend)
iv. Person’s interests: “How is ___?” (e.g. baseball practice, the play, your new video game, your pet)
Ask (Who, What, When, Where, Why , or How) or Tell (I ___) about what they said (e.g. “Where are you going on vacation?” or “I have that video game too”)
Getting to Know Someone New
Start the conversation:
i. Ask about something you see or might have in common (e.g. “That looks like a good book. What’s it about?” or “How do you like this class?”)
ii. Introduce yourself (e.g. “Hi, my name is…”)
iii. Ask and tell about these categories to get to know them and discover what you have in common:
School: What classes do you take? How do you like that subject?
Interests: What do you do for fun? Do you like sports? What kind of music do you listen to? What TV shows do you watch?
Family: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Do you have any pets?
iv. Avoid sensitive topics
v. Don’t ask or tell about things that might upset the other person
vi. End the conversation
Explain why you need to go (e.g. “My Mom is picking me up so I need to leave”), and say, “It was nice to meet you!”
Knowing When to Stop Talking
Look for signs of interest in others as you speak (e.g. smiling, nodding)
If someone looks bored (e.g. yawning, backing away, loss of eye contact), ask if they want to hear more
If they do not want to hear more
i. Stop talking about the subject
ii. Ask something about them
Role-playing appropriate conversations using these tips may be helpful. Regular practice of appropriate conversations could be incorporated into the daily routine, such as the drive home from school. Of course, be sure to always praise and encourage appropriate social communication!
The ApaCenter will soon be beginning two new therapy groups to help children and teens develop these and other social skills. For more information, I encourage you to visit www.apacenter.com/groups.