Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – A How to Guide
Asperger’s and social skills do not often go together very well especially high functioning autism social skills and conversations. If you have a loved one on the spectrum, or you are on the spectrum yourself, you know that there can be a lot of difficulties in this area.
There is a whole “hidden language” that comes with learning how to have conversations with others and developing friendships. While most “typical” people pick it up intuitively, for people with high functioning autism it is something that needs to be taught.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – How to Have a Conversation
Let’s start with one of the most basic components of social skills, the conversation.
A conversation is an exchange between two people in which ideas, information or emotions are shared. Why do people have conversations? There are many reasons. Mainly, people have conversations in order to get their needs met. Whether this need is simply to get information about something, ask a question, feel a sense of emotional connection, share joy or sadness, or because they’re bored, conversation is all about meeting some kind of need – or the need of someone else.
So, the fact is that developing your conversation skills will be very important to you. It may not seem like it now, but sooner or later, you’re going to want to be able to have effective conversations with others. This is how you might go about doing it. A conversation is an important part of Autism social skills.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – How to Start a Conversation
First, look to see if the person is busy talking to another person, or if they seem engaged in another task that might prevent them being able to talk.
Building your observational skills is important when you are on the spectrum and are trying to improve your social skills.
If they do not seem to be engaged in something else, go up to them and say “Hello.” Look them in the eye. Use their name if you know it. Try to think of a topic in advance that you can use to start the conversation.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – Appropriate Conversation Topics
There are good topics to open with and bad topics to open with.
In general, a good opening topic should be a very broad, general topic. It should be something the other person has a potential interest in. And the opening should be relatively short.
The weather, comments about the situation you are both in – if you are at a concert, make a comment about the singer, if you’re at a restaurant, ask if they like the food – and general comments about non-controversial current events can be good opening topics.
This is called “small talk” and most people on the spectrum do not like it. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary part to moving any further in the conversation. It is one of the challenges to improving autism social skills and conversations.
Anything about your personal life is not a good opening topic. Sharing too much about your life, your problems or anything negative usually turns people off. Imagine people like an onion. You have to delicately peel the layers off of them until you get to the good stuff. People are a lot like that
They won’t be likely to talk to you about things that you really want to talk about, or share much about themselves, until you have “proven” that you can be an enjoyable person to talk to. Be positive, make compliments or ask questions about their lives, this usually attracts people.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – The Conversation Volley
So, say you are talking to someone at a party where you don’t know many people. You may open with “Hi! Quite a party, isn’t it?” and give the other person a chance to respond. Perhaps they say something like, “Yeah, I really like the music they’re playing.” Try to think of something about the music to comment on. Or comment on something else you like about the party. It’s kind of like a volleyball tournament, where you have to throw out a conversational missive and think about where it might land.
After a few exchanges about the party, maybe you will find you have something in common. Where you live, the school you went to, music or food you both like. Give comments about these things but try to keep the comments to a few sentences at most. Otherwise, you will overwhelm the listener.
Now, some people you won’t be able to go any further with – you just don’t click with that person – and you’ll have to move on, and start again. Sometimes, though, you’ll find someone who you have something in common with. The key is to provide progressively more information about your interests or feelings as the conversation goes on.
The biggest mistake that people make when they are working on their autism social skills and conversations is coming on too strong. Giving too much information, or information that’s not relevant. Sharing too much. Trying to gauge where that line is can be difficult, but it’s an important skill to have if you are on the spectrum and are trying to develop your social skills.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – Taking a Chance on a Friendship
If you find someone you feel you click with, don’t be afraid to say something like “Hey, would you like to have coffee some time?” If they say yes, then exchange phone numbers or emails, and make a time later on after the event.
Being casual is a very important part of interacting with someone for the first time. People on the spectrum don’t like to wait around or beat around the bush and like to be very up front about things. “Neurotypical” people, on the other hand, consider this “being too forward.” They get intimidated if they feel someone is pushing something on them too fast. So it is important to try to take it slowly, no matter how much you feel like you want to dive into deeper topics immediately.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – The Secret to Success… Ask Questions
The best way to keep a conversation rolling is to ask the other person questions about themselves. People love to talk about themselves. They will rarely turn down the opportunity. One key thing to remember – Listen more than you talk. People value a good listener. This is a valuable skill to improve autism social skills and conversations.
Ask questions such as “What do you do for work?” and when they respond, ask follow-up questions. “Oh, you’re a town clerk. Can you tell me more about what a town clerk does?” Or “Oh, that sounds very interesting. What part of your job do you like the best (or the worst)? How did you get into that industry? Have you always worked at that job?” And so on.
Autism Social Skills and Conversations – Show Interest
This is not to say that you can never talk about yourself, but a successful first interaction will be mostly about the other person. In future interactions, you can try to make the balance more even – but the quickest way to kill a conversation is to talk about yourself too much when you don’t the person that well. You need to be thinking about what the other person is interested in, and show interest in them, for them to be interested in you.
These are not the only tips on how to start a conversation and make friends, but they are the most basic and important ones. You can use these tips in most situations. Be sure to observe what other people are doing in any given situation and model your body language and tone after them as much as possible. Working on your autism social skills and conversations can be challenging, but if you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to social success.
And for much more great information on Autism and its related issues read the book by Craig Kendall, New Hope for Autism