Children with Asperger’s Disorder sometimes have a difficult time relating to peers due to their social awkwardness and narrow, often obsessive, interests. Especially during adolescence, these kids want to make friends and even date but they misinterpret important social cues. For example, they might speak too loudly or get too close, making other teens uncomfortable. They might talk incessantly about their peculiar hobbies, leaving peers perplexed at how to relate. They might have odd behaviors which tip-off classmates that something about them is unusual, yet it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t appear to be a disability. So peers think, “That kid is so weird,” instead of wanting to reach out. This sets up the teen with Aspergers for bullying and ridicule. But some schools are addressing the problem by providing more peer education and setting-up group practice sessions where they have the opportunity to learn the rules of conversation. Peer tutors, or neuro-typical teens volunteer to participate in these conversation sessions.
You can help your child with Asperger’s Disorder by teaching some rules of conversation as early as he or she can understand. (Adapt them to your child’s cognitive level.) Make it a game, where the child gains points or rewards for not breaking the “rules!” Have your son or daughter try out conversation with people. You may need to provide him or her with the exact phrases or greetings necessary. This is why involving peers is a good idea. On some level, your child needs to use or at least understand the current “lingo” of today’s teens.
And frankly, we ALL could use a brush-up on good conversation skills!
- When meeting someone for the first time, introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m James.” Politely ask the person what her name is. If you’re seeing someone you know, address him by name. “Hi Scott!”
- Smile. Use a calm, friendly tone. Not too loud. Not too soft.
- In most cases, stay at arm’s length.
- Ask a question about the other person. What subject does he or she like the most? What does she do for fun? Does he play sports? An instrument? Did anything interesting happen to her today?
- Use good listening skills. Make eye contact. Nod. Don’t interrupt.
- Ask a question relating to something the person just told you. Always try to ask two questions about the other person before talking about yourself.
- Take turns talking and listening. No monologues allowed!
- Look for signs of disinterest. Turning the head or body away, giving short replies, refusing to make eye contact, etc., are signs that your attempts at conversation aren’t wanted. This happens to everybody! Just say, “see you later!” and move on.
- No changing the subject!
- When it’s time to end the conversation, (because its time to do something else, or signs of disinterest are being displayed) say, “It was nice talking to you!” “I’ll see you later!”
If your son or daughter with Aspergers attends middle school, ask the special needs coordinator about conversation practice with peers. The results are sure to be beneficial, and many teens are more than willing to volunteer their help.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.