5 Essential Steps to Prepare People with Autism for Effective Conversation - as Taught by “I Can Hav
Conversation can be extraordinarily challenging for people with autism due to all of its social, logical, and language requisites which occur before and after one opens his or her mouth to speak. As a speech-language pathologist, I work with people of all ages who have autism. After 10+ years of development, I have created a specialized teaching method and a clinically effective system that helps people with autism navigate each facet of conversation successfully in my iPad app “I Can Have Conversations With You!™” (www.iCanForAutism.com). This is the first article in a 4-part series that describes how each segment of the app helps your child have better conversations while helping you take on your child’s mindset in order to better communicate with her or him.
Segment #1: “Pre-Conversation Concepts” Conversations begin when an individual becomes alert and aware of a change in the social environment. People with autism often have difficulty noticing a change in their environment which is different, interesting, special, unusual, confusing, weird, new, and so on. “I Can Have Conversations With You” begins each conversation module with a video of people experiencing these changes. Using a combination of words, facial expressions, gestures, and other body language, the conversational partners talk about a particular topic. After watching the video, the Pre-Conversation Concepts questions make the learner alert and aware of the conversational situation through the following steps:
Conversational partners and their relationships: The first step to set up the framework for conversation is to know who the conversational partners are and their relationship with one another. People with autism, for example, sometimes overgeneralize the features of a person, leading to an inaccurate perception. So, the person with autism, especially a child, might automatically label any adult male as “Dad” or any adult woman as “Mrs. Smith, a teacher”.
Orientation to place and time: After obtaining correct orientation to person, “I Can Have Conversations With You!” then directs the learner to orient to place and time – a common difficulty. The learner will identify where the conversational partners are having this conversation (which usually corresponds to their relationship) and if they are talking about present, past, or future events.
Eye contact: As people with autism tend to focus more on distractors rather than the targets, “I Can Have Conversations With You!” displays interactive tappable arrows which direct the learner’s attention appropriately. Observing eye contact between the conversational partners alerts the learner that communication will occur and binds their social connection.
Physical feelings and mental emotions: Now that the learner is focused on the conversational partner’s eyes, “I Can Have Conversations With You!” uses boxes around their faces to highlight their facial expressions and body language.
Intentions and Motivations: People with autism tend to rely on just any words they can think of which are similar to the conversational situation, often leading to a mismatch. “I Can Have Conversations With You!” teaches the learner to analyze the content of what the conversational partners want to say and why they want to say it, then matching the appropriate words.
See how a person with autism learns “Pre-Conversation Concepts” in my app video tour here: https://youtu.be/63RIhdBxoP0 Like never before in an autism app, “I Can Have Conversations With You!” provides reliable methods and strategies to approach conversation. Please share this with families you know whose child struggles with conversation. Stay tuned for the next article in this series, ‘Conversational Connectors’, to understand how my app teaches the learner to match appropriate words with intentions.