Improving Conversation Skills in Children with Autism | Stuck Series Part 3

The third area where parents and professionals often feel stuck when working with a child or client with autism is with getting kids who are talking to get conversation skills and be conversational.. 

And that is a big jump. 

My son Lucas is still not conversational, and I don’t see him being fully conversational unless some miracle happens. There could be a medication or there could be something that happens that makes him fully conversational someday, but for now he can communicate his wants and needs. His major problem behaviors are at or near zero, and he is pretty independent with his self-care and those sorts of things. Still, I am not giving up. We want to always be working with our children or clients, with and without autism, to improve their conversation skills.

As a reminder, no matter if you’re stuck in any of the five areas, you always want to start with an assessment and a revision of the goals, plans, and targets you have made for your child or client. Peel back the onion and figure out what is going on with their development. 

There’s not going to be one day where all of a sudden you’re turning things around. Turning autism around, whether that is for an older child who is not toilet trained or not talking; or turning things around for a young child just showing signs of autism, it’s always possible to make progress. 

Kids should be making progress. 

They should at least be safe, independent as possible, and happy as possible. They should be able to request their wants and needs, whether that’s vocally or with a device; they should have major problem behaviors at or near zero; and they should — especially if they’re over five — have the ability to use the toilet as independently as possible.

If you missed part 1 of this Stuck Series about language assessment or part 2 about teaching receptive language skills, make sure to check those out too.

Improving Conversation Skills

So, getting kids who are already talking to be more conversational is an area where people get stuck a lot. 

Many Kids that are talking but not conversational and have autism – usually moderate to severe autism – also have weird language. They are scripting and stimming and a lot of people say things like, “oh, fingers crossed he’ll be conversational.” 

But becoming conversational  involves a lot of systematic teaching of language, and the quicker you can get on that, the better the odds are that your child or client can be conversational. Teaching a child or client to answer yes or no, or teaching them intraverbal categories, intraverbal webbing, colors, reading, math, and writing are all complicated. 

But it can be done.

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Stimming and Scripting

Kids that are talking but not conversational are almost always those intermediate learners who script and stim and have problem behaviors. 

A lot of people don’t realize that stimming and scripting, especially if it’s very excessive, can be a major problem behavior for inclusion or for working in the future.

Every person stims; they just aren’t aware of it. Stimming occurs when we are not engaged with something, or it’s not being reinforced for us. It can be something as simple as playing with your hair, or scrolling through your newsfeed. Self-stim behavior is normal, but that does not mean it can’t be very disruptive or even dangerous. Sometimes a child’s self-stim behavior can look like banging their head against the wall, moaning, or rocking. I once was asked to observe a kid who banged his head so hard and for 3 hours a day,  he ended up getting a lesion on the back of his head. This behavior was not only disruptive to this boy, but physically harmful as well and needed treatment.

Scripting, on the other hand,  which is not usually dangerous, is saying nonsense language like repeating lines from a movie or repeating random words and sentences. 

Scripting can prevent a child from engaging with others, learning, or socializing. I once observed a sixth grader who would say the same types of words or sentences over 500 times a day, which was interfering with his school placement. This is why improving conversation skills is so important. I have a six step guide that will help with stimming and scripting here: www.marybarbera.com/stimming

Abstract Language

There are really abstract language concepts that are so important in conversation skills. Like answering yes or no within a mand. For example, answering the question “do you want ketchup on your fries?” Or answering within a tact, like, “is this a cup?” or “is this blue or is this green?” Being able to answer yes or no is huge. I also have a video blog about answering yes or no that is really helpful for parents and professionals.

Get Help with Conversation Skills

I wouldn’t accept the fact that a kid who is any age can’t eventually be conversational, because if you put these building blocks in place and really teach language systematically, no matter what the age, there’s always hope. 

Just because Lucas isn’t fully conversational doesn’t mean he’s not making progress with language. The other night for instance Lucas just independently answered his first “why” question ever!

So, getting kids to go from nonverbal to talking is the first place many get stuck, getting kids to receptively understand language is the second, and the third area is the kids who are talking, getting them more and more conversational. 

The best way I know how to help is by asking you to consider joining my intermediate learner course, which is part of the verbal behavior bundle.  You can find out more by attending a free online workshop!

Depending on your role and the age of your child or client, I offer three different free workshops to help with all five areas you may get stuck.

Turning Autism Around for Parents of children ages 1-4

Autism ABA Help for Parents of children ages 5-21

Autism Professionals Bundle for ABA’s, teachers, SLP’s, and more.

These workshops will help you to better help your child or client improve their conversation skills, or help get them understanding and using language in the first place. I want to help you and your child turn autism around. Consider attending one of my free workshops to see if one of my paid courses is right for you and your child or client.

Do you want to learn more about improving conversation skills?
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Transcript

This is part three of our video blog series on how to get a child unstuck, whether that child is your own, whether you’re a parent or professional working with a child who’s stuck in five areas.  We’ve already covered when they’re stuck with speaking, taking a child from non-vocal to vocal. We’ve covered how to get unstuck from the inability to follow receptive directions and this video blog part three is going to be how to get unstuck with a child who’s talking but non-conversational.  Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and bestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around. This video blog is going to be a short excerpt about an area where parents and professionals get stuck and see little progress and I’m going to provide some tips on how to get unstuck.

The number three area where I see parents and professionals getting stuck is with getting kids who are talking to be conversational. And that is a big jump and Lucas is still not conversational. And um, I don’t see him being fully conversational unless some miracle happens, you know, which there could be a medication or there could be, um, something that happens that makes him fully conversational. Um, but he can communicate his wants and needs. His major problem behaviors are at or near zero and he is pretty independent with his self care and those sorts of things. So getting kids talking who are already talking to be more conversational is an area where people get stuck a lot. Um, kids, uh, that are talking but not conversational, that have autism, usually moderate to severe autism, um, they have weird language, they are scripting and stimming.

Um, and a lot of people just like, Oh, fingers crossed, he’ll be conversational. But it involves a lot of systematic teaching of language. And the quicker you can get on that, the better the odds are that your child or client can be conversational. And just because Lucas isn’t conversational doesn’t mean he’s not making progress with language. There are the, the really abstract language concepts that are so important. Like, yes, no answering yes, no within a mand, within a tact. So do you want ketchup on your hotdog?  Or within a tact, Is this, uh, a cup, um, or is this blue or is this green? Um, and then answering questions with yes, no. Um, did you go to the store today? Did you, um, was a coworker there? Um, yes, no is is huge. I’ve done a, a video blog on that as well, yes, no. Um, intraverbal categories, intraverbal webbing, uh, teaching colors, teaching reading, math, writing. It’s all complicated.

And these kids that are talking but not conversational are almost always those intermediate learners who, um, script and stim and have problem behaviors. And you know, a lot of people don’t realize, but stimming and scripting, especially if it’s very excessive, can be a major problem behavior for, for inclusion, for working in the, in the future. So, um, all these things to think about. So getting kids more vocal, uh, is one, getting kids to receptively understand language is two, and the third area is the talking, kids who are talking, getting them more and more conversational. And really the best way I know how to do that is by considering joining my intermediate learner course, which is part of the verbal behavior bundle. Of course, you can go to, uh, the workshop, the free workshop, which we’ll link again in the show notes, um, to help you learn more.

But I, I wouldn’t accept a kid who’s 10, you know, just accept the fact that he can’t be conversational because if you put these building blocks in place and really teach language systematically, no matter what the age there’s, there’s always hope. I hope you enjoyed that video blog. If you did, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment and share this video with anyone who could benefit and to attend a free workshop where you can learn how to get unstuck, attend marybarbera.com/workshop for more information. I hope to see you right here next week.

 

 

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