Conversation: The Building Block for Friendship

Would you like to learn some of the specifics of ongoing coversation?

I have read several comments in blogs and forums from children, teens, and adults with Asperger’s syndrome.

“What’s the point of trying to have friends? It’s too hard. Conversation does not make sense! Why even try?”

Conversation and Friendship for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

photo credit: Bay Shakti talks with John Friend by Brad Coy on Flickr

Unfortunately, without a road map and language guide, a stay in a different country can be difficult. I’d like to provide some points I have found through some research I have done. Warning: This is only a beginning, but I hope it will provide some strategies to start with.

First, it’s important that you read an article I wrote on the building blocks for empathy, and another article I wrote on learning the four steps required for perspective taking. Without empathy and perspective taking skills, it’s going to be very hard to carry on a conversation. And conversation is one of the main elements that make relationships and emotional connection possible. The steps that you would use to teach a child with Aspergers (or learn as a child with Aspergers) to form perspective taking skills that are necessary in order to build friendships are the steps that you need to learn as a teenager as an adult. Therefore, I believe that an individual of any age can benefit from these steps.

Okay, I hope you read the four steps that need to occur to take perspective of others even when you are NOT talking.

The next step in carrying on a conversation is understanding the non-verbal and verbal cues that go on in conversations. Even before this step takes place, remember the WHY of carrying on a conversation. To many individuals with Aspergers, conversation seems like a meaningless, confusing ritual. It helps to remember that you want to learn the art of conversation because of the end result it can provide for you: a sense of relatedness and friendship with another human being.

Finally, here is a hierarchy of suggested knowledge and skills shared by Michelle Garcia Winner, author of Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, a dynamic workbook geared to help children and young people (but applicable to all ages).  Work on mastering this knowledge and these skills.  I would suggest that you look into a social skills group with a therapist trained in autism conditions to help you practice these skills ona consistent basis.

Think About the Other Person:

a.  If I have met this person before:

What do I remember about this person? What are her interests? Who is in her family? Who are her other friends?

b. If I have not met this person before, I ahve to make some guesses about her:

How old is the person? What gender? How is he or she feeling? From what this person has said or how he or she looks, what might he or she be interested in? Does the person seem interested in me? (Is he or she looking at me?)

c. Establish a physical presence with the other person.

Turn your shoulders, chest, feet, and head in the direction of the other person/s.

If entering into a group where two other persons are already talking, observe their bodies to see if they shift their physical presence to welcome you into the group.

Keep your body relaxed from you legs up through the top of your head

d. Establish and maintain intermittent eye contact: think with your eyes.

If you want to engage with another person, look toward that person’s face to establish communicative intent.
Look at that person’s face (cheeks, eyes, mouth, eyebrows) to try and discern emotional reactions.

If you are part of a group of more than two people, move your head and shift your eye gaze to track the speakers. This shows active interest.

Monitor the eye contact of the communicative partners. Are theyu distracted or focused on the people in the group? Do they show a preference for one person with their eye gaze?

e. Maintain interest in another person’s topic/comments

Make comments or ask questions related to what the other person is talking about to acknowledge you are attending to what they are saying.

Create a bridge between what they are interested in talking about and what you are interested in talking about. Add your thoughts to connect to their thoughts.

Monitor your own talking time — avoid monopolizing a conversation.

Citations of Research Done for this Blog Post:

Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, by Michelle Garica Winner.

A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive, by Sally Ozonoff, PhD, Geraldine Dawson, PhD, and James Mc Partland.

Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence, by Luke Jackson (a teenager with Aspergers Syndrome)

Other Helpful Resources:

Model Me Kids: Video Modeling DVD’s for children with autism and aspergers.  I have personally purchased these DVD’s for my private practice work with children on the autism spectrum.

Here’s a great article written by a therapist, addressed to parents who want to be effective in teaching social skills to their children with Aspergers.

The Autism Society of America is a good place, in the United States, to find referrals to support groups and possible social skills groups in your area.

Wrong Planet is a forum of over 35,000 participating members, both Aspies and NT’s.

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  1. Bonniebam says

    Great article! I copied the 5 points and laminated them for my daughter to keep in her pocket to refer to when she is at school!

  2. steveborgman says

    Bonnie, I'm so glad that you enjoyed the article. I did not think about the idea of laminating this! But I'm going to do the same for some of my clients! :)

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