Many teens and adults with Autism spectrum disorders or Aspergers or Non-verbal learning disability avoid conversations out of fear that they won’t know what to say. This fear usually is based on lots of experience. They may try a few stock scripted questions, but those rarely get you very far. After all, few conversations are sustained over topics such as the weather or your favorite movie or book, despite what your social skills instructor told you. Scripting just doesn’t work very well in the real world of conversation. It may get you started. But then what?
So once the momentum from the scripted question fades, my guys with ASD or Aspergers or Non-verbal learning disability start to get a little panicky inside. What they heck am I supposed to do now? Most will tend then to lapse into a long (and boring) soliloquy on their favorite topic or interest. They know they can fill lots of empty air time that way. And besides, its so fascinating. But again, you are not going to power many lasting conversational exchanges with baseball statistics or the finer points of anime.
So most of my guys with ASD will acknowledge that they work hard to avoid conversation. Why fail again?
There is a (relatively) easy solution.
I tell my guys that I used to be shy and awkward socially. I often felt unsure what to say. Until I became a shrink. Then I discovered that many of the strategies that shrinks use routinely are very helpful for building a good, satisfying, self sustaining conversation. No surprise really: we shrinks live on conversation. If we don’t engage our clients, we can’t help them and they will leave.
So I have developed a helpful tool for clients with ASD that I call “Shrink Tricks”. (A little humor is always helpful in conversation…)
The failproof, stealth secrets of “Shrink Tricks”
Most people love to talk about themselves. With the “Shrink Tricks” method, we help our clients with ASD or Asperger’s harness this helpful little idiosyncracy of the neurotypical to keep conversations alive – by getting others to talk about themselves and their lives. Here are the “Seven Secret Shrink Tricks”. We provide them to our guys on a wallet sized laminated card:
- Make the conversation all about your conversation partner, not you. Devote yourself to them and their personal concerns. Who are they? What kind of a person are they? What do they care about? What matters most to them?
- Ask personal questions. Do not make statements. (This one takes practice to learn. Our guys are used to making statements.)
- Ask open-ended questions. Do not ask a question that can be answered with one or two words. (This also takes a while to learn. Folks with ASD hate open-ended questions. They have a lot of trouble organizing a response. So its not surprising that they would not tend to ask open-ended questions…)
- Ask questions about how they think and feel. Ask personal questions, not factual ones.
- Listen carefully and use what they say to continue the conversation with a brief comment or a follow up question. (You can also try nodding your head and uttering, “Hmm.”)
- Learn to be comfortable with pauses.
Now it takes lots of practice for shrinks to become comfortable and adept with these practices. It also takes lots of practice with teen and adults with ASD or Aspergers or Non-verbal learning disability. So we practice in sessions. If the client is working with one of our social coaches, they will videotape the conversation and then review the tape afterwards. Once they develop the skills they use these tips in three way conversations with others, the coach, the student, and a third. We have the teen practice with parents, other relatives, family friends. Once the client is comfortable with the process under these protected circumstances, we ask them to give their new found skills a try with peers…..
These “Shrink Tricks” are by no means magic. But when accompanied by lots of practice, many of our teens and adults with ASD or Aspergers or Non-verbal learning disability have found them quite helpful.
Contact us if you would like your own handy-dandy “Shrink Tricks” wallet sized laminated card.