I Talk to Him and He Just Talks to Me: Conversation Techniques for Everyone

April is Autism Awareness Month. There are plenty of articles out there that will attempt to describe how people on the Autism Spectrum interact with others. I’ve been teaching my students how to have appropriate conversations with people across abilities, with a highlight on ASD.Today, I’m here to make some suggestions addressing how we interact with people with ASD.

  • Say hello.
    The person you are speaking to is exactly that, a person. This person should be treated with the same respect as any other individual you encounter. Say hello. This may be met with a verbal hello, a nonverbal greeting, sign of acknowledgment or no response at all. There is absolutely no reason for this person not to feel accepted during any interaction.
  • Listen.
Listen to the response you get. Listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Related to your topic of interest or not, listen and hear. All people have interests and different methods of communicating and all are valid. Keep in mind, nonverbal reactions are just as valid a form of communication as verbal reactions.
  • Talk to the person in front of you.
    I cannot stress this one enough. People should not be talked about in any situation. Just because someone isn’t neurotypical doesn’t mean they should be talked about, they should be spoken to. If you find yourself speaking about the person instead of to them, please know they’re taking in every word you say.
  • Have a conversation.
    You are an active participant. Ask questions. Learn about the other person’s perspective on the topic of discussion; you might learn something new yourself! Make sure you’re taking turns talking. Remember: a conversation ges back and forth and is not an interrogation of one individual from the other.
  • Ticks happen.
    Some people flap their hands. Some people don’t maintain eye contact. Some people, fidget with objects or the hems of their shirts. This is not an uninvested conversation. This is how the individual is coping with incoming sensory information. Do you ever doodle while you’re on the phone or in a meeting to keep your focus? This is the same logic–using another skill to help take in all of the sensory information around us.
  • Politely end the conversation.
    Conversation does not end because you’ve decided it should. You do not simply walk away from someone you’re having a conversation with. You conclude the conversation using a concluding statement. What are those? “I have to go now.” “It was nice talking to you.” “Thanks for helping me.” “See you soon!”
This week, and every day, I challenge you to talk to someone new and different.Open yourself up to what conversations with anyone have the potential to become. Share your interactions in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
— Stef the Stage SLP

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