Starting a conversation and then maintaining one can be difficult for teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum. In the following blog Paul Jordan, the author of  How to start, carry on and end conversations: Scripts for social situations for people on the autism spectrum offers up advice on making sense of everyday social situations and gives us 5 top tips on maintaining a good conversation with someone.

  • Maintain eye contact with the other person
    This is extremely important for successful conversations, especially with neurotypicals (people without autism). This is arguably because, their brains which are wired conventionally, tell them that you are giving them your attention when you are looking at them. It shows them that you are interested in what they are saying and are also listening to them. It is not sufficient to have your back to them, even though you might actively be listening, because they cannot see your face. This might originate from the time people communicated orally before books were invented.

  • Prompt the other person to talk about something.
    This is a good way to start a conversation, by asking them to talk about something in the immediate environment, perhaps what they have been doing or about something that has been in the news lately. As a recent example one of my friends from university, who has autism, started a new job so I asked him about how he was doing. This is a way for the other person (conversation partner) to invite you to talk about something similar, and by doing so you keep the conversation relevant and you discuss the same thing with one another.

  • Take turns talking about different subjects in the conversation.
    Somebody once told me to talk about three things and let the other person have their turn. It is also important not to interrupt the conversation – wait for the other person to pause and then you can say something. It is also crucial not to perseverate or go on and on about the same topic. The other person will become bored and not want to listen to you. In this situation this is not a conversation but a monologue, and is annoying to others.

  • Try not to constantly relate what the other person is saying back to your special interest.
    Unless the other person shares your interest, they will find what you saying to be irrelevant and boring. Try to stay in the moment, and perhaps ask the person what they think about the situation they are describing. Perhaps explore or think about why you developed a special interest so that your conversation partner can put it in perspective. Some people, such as parents or friends, will let you talk to them about your special interest for short periods of time if you ask them.

  • Try to paraphrase what the other person is saying to indicate that you understand them.
    For example, you might say ‘you bought a dog, did you? Tell me about it.” if your conversation partner talks about their new pet. This is a way of showing that you are taking an interest in what they are telling you and that you are also processing the information. Paraphrasing might also be along the lines of ‘I understand what you mean. You think this about this issue, this is my opinion about this’. Repetition – paraphrasing – conveys to the other person that you understand them and are following the conversation.

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