Tuesday, October 26, 2010


            When I conduct social groups at school I like to ask my students,  “What are some of the rules of polite conversation?” This gives the students an opportunity to offer their ideas and opinions, and gives me some information about what the children already know. In my experience, kids often know most of the rules, but have trouble following them in real life conversations. We write these rules on a white board. You can write them on whatever you have at home but everyone should be able to see these rules at all times.  Having a visual reference is very helpful for kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  Here is a sample list of rules of conversation. Please feel free to add anything that applies to your family. Make each lesson your own.

Don't talk when someone else is talking

Look at the speaker/look at the person you are talking to

Stay on topic

Don't hog the conversation

Only talk about appropriate subjects

Use a soft or inside voice / no yelling    

            If your family tends to talk over one another you may need to use an object to let everyone know whose turn it is to talk. You can use anything. I have used a stuffed chicken, a plastic bug, or a stick. Let your kids decide what to use. This will get them involved in all aspects of the lesson.  You can use a different object each day or use the same one each time, whatever your family prefers. Let everyone get used to having a conversation this way.  It seems awkward at first but it is very effective for teaching kids to wait their turn to join the conversation. If someone does interrupt you can say, “Are you holding the chicken?” When the child says no then you can say,   “It will be your turn to talk in a minute. You can wait.”
            Once your family is doing a good job of taking turns talking, stop using the object.  If they begin forgetting to take turns, quietly bring the object back out and hand it to the person who should be talking. This should act as a silent and visual reminder for them to wait their turn. Always begin the conversation without the object anywhere in sight and bring it out only if needed. Eventually you should all be able to get through a conversation without needing the object. If your family has a big problem with interrupting each other, focus on that alone until you get it under control before moving on to another rule. You only want to focus on one or two skills at a time. Otherwise it may be too difficult and overwhelming for your child.
            So....what in the world are we going to talk about? Talk about anything that is of interest to your family, but try to give everyone a chance to talk about something they find interesting for a short time. You can start by asking questions like:

What was your favorite part of the day/vacation/movie etc....
What's the funniest thing that happened to you today?
What's the worst thing that happened to you today? 

When you are ready to have more sophisticated conversations talk about something you saw on TV or read in the paper.  I purchased a CHAT PACK at a local toy store and I've used it for social groups at school and home as well as something fun to do on a car trip. It's the size of a deck of cards. It contains 156 cards and each card has a question printed on it. It is a great way to have a fun conversation with people of all ages. The questions make you think and make for a lively and funny conversation.

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