Autism Awareness – Tips to
Practice Short Conversations
A key area of autism awareness is social skills. Having short conversations can be a difficult social skill task for folks on the autism spectrum.
Short conversations or “small talk” occur on a daily basis in many different places:
- By the water cooler at work with colleagues.
- At the grocery store with the person at the checkout counter.
- In the hallway at school with fellow students and teachers.
- At restaurants with hosts and servers.
- …and really anywhere else where people interact.
The ability of having small talk shows a level of social skill awareness to the outside world.
Practicing small talk is important for someone diagnosed with Autism who is trying to be an independent individual with appropriate social skills.
Below are 5 tips to help master short conversations.
Autism Awareness – Defining “small talk”
Small talk generally consists of 3 parts: a greeting, some general questions or comments, and an ending.
The greeting is a polite way to open up the conversation and it is commonly understood that a little conversation may follow it.
A greeting can be things such as:
- “Hi, how are you?”
- “Good morning.”
- …or some such sentence.
After the greetings there would be some general questions or comments pertaining to the current environment.
If you are at a restaurant for instance the general questions or comments could pertain to the food being ordered:
- “May I please see the menu?”
- “I was wondering what the special is today?”
If at school you may say something like:
- “Wow, that assignment last night was difficult!”
- “How is your new class going?”
It is important that these general questions or comments are not “off topic” and directly reflect the environment where the conversation is happening.
Lastly, after a minute or 2, is the ending. The ending is a polite way to end the conversation and is the cue that people are going to continue on with their day.
Some examples of the ending:
- “Thanks, have a good day.”
- “Was great seeing you again.”
- …or some such sentence.
Autism Awareness – Find a Partner
First, find a partner who is willing to role-play. Parents, siblings and close family friends generally make good partners to practice with.
For example, your partner can pretend to be the waiter/waitress at a restaurant or the checkout clerk at the grocery store.
It is important that if you are the “partner” that you portray the character accurately.
Autism Awareness – Set a Timer
Generally, short conversations/small talk last anywhere between 1-2 minutes.
Use the alarm function on a cell phone or even a food timer from the kitchen to clearly limit the conversation time.
The timer will provide a time boundary that might otherwise be difficult to gauge for someone on the autism spectrum.
Autism Awareness – Ready, Set, Go!
Time to practice!
If you are the partner, make sure to get into character and offer out real comments that could happen when out in the community.
Make sure to practice all 3 parts of small talk: the greeting, general questions or comments and the ending.
Autism Awareness – Practice Makes Progress
Practice different scenarios:
- At a job.
- At the grocery store.
- At a restaurant.
- At the clothing store.
- At school.
Practice with your partner until it feels comfortable and then take the skills you have learned and practice out in the community.
It is super important that small talk is practiced out in the community. It will become more comfortable over time with practice.
Starting with role playing and then moving on to practicing out in the community will lead to a more perfected art of small talk. Autism awareness and building social skills takes practice, practice, practice and with practice comes progress.
Article by Marianne Bernaldo
For more great tips and strategies check out the Craig Kendall books: Asperger’s Syndrome Guide for Teens and Young Adults and Thriving in Adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome.