More about written conversations for autism
Did you ever try to have a conversation with a student with autism who isn’t very skilled at conversations? As the communication partner, it’s so easy to dominate everything.
When we are trying to talk with students who have limited verbal skills or those who speak with a lot of echolalia, it’s natural for us to try to “move things along” by controlling the interaction. The problem is that the more the adult is in control, the less the student gets to do. It a bit like sitting on a teeter totter. We “outsize” our communication partner.
Create some balance
Written conversations help to create some balance in the conversation. It’s a strange thing how this works. But it works.
The result for the students with autism is that they can become more engaged and the quality of their participation improves.
Here’s an example
PROBLEM: Sam came into the classroom with a very red nose. He looked
like he had a bad cold. The teacher was unsure if he felt sick. When she questioned him, Sam’s answers were echolalic and did not clarify what she needed to know.
CAUSE: Sam has little spontaneous speech and has difficulty answering questions. He frequently echoes what the other person says.
Here’s a typical conversation.
Teacher: Do you feel OK?
Sam: Do you feel OK?
Teacher: Does your nose hurt?
Sam: Does your nose hurt?
SOLUTION: Use a written conversation to discuss the situation.
It’s really pretty simple
By switching to a printed form of communication, Teacher learned a lot from Sam. He provided more information than he could in a simple verbal exchange. Here’s what they did.
You can do this
It will expand your interactions with students.
Here’s How to Have a Written Conversation
1. Use pencil and paper, a computer, a typewriter, dry erase board or cards with words already written on them.
2. Try to engage in “simultaneous communication.” Write down what you say. Ask questions. Give information. Engage in whatever communication you need to engage in. Just write it, too.
3. Be sensitive to what you think the student will understand. Match your level of written language to the student’s level of understanding.
4. If student can write or type, encourage him to take his turn in writing. Encourage him to answer your questions or ask you for information. Sometimes this works even better with computers.
5. Don’t worry about spelling or complete sentences. The content is what’s important.
6. Try fill-in-the-blank type sentences to provide the structure to get more information.
7. If the student can’t generate enough written language, try writing down some choices to give him an opportunity to choose an answer.
Remember, students do not have to be proficient readers for this technique to work. You might be surprised to find out they are able to convey more information than you expected.
Note: It can be easier to begin using written conversations when you know some of the information you are trying to obtain from the student. Keeping that in mind, it’s NOT recommended to use this technique for “false” conversations. It will work best for real conversation exchanges.
P.S. This is a technique that works for lots of students, not just those on the autism spectrum.
P.P.S. To help you read the examples
Why did you stay home from school March 7th and 8th?
Were you sick?
Did you miss the bus?
Did you sleep in?
What part of your body did not feel good? What hurt?
Did you throw up?
Does your stomach hurt now?
I’m glad you are at school.
(change of topic)
Did your mom put medicine on it?
Does your face or nose hurt today?
No I feel better
What happened to your face?
Did you fall in the snow?
What part of your body did you scratch?
Nose checks head
When you fell did it hurt?
Did you fall in the snow?
Did your face hurt?
No I hurt nose