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Hidden Social Rules of Conversation:


Here is a short guide to teaching your child with ASD the hidden social rules of conversation.


Begin with teaching your child that when you see someone that you know during the day it is polite to say “hello” or some other form of greeting.

Below are some social rules to teach your child about greetings.
  1. The first time that you see someone that you know In the morning, it is polite to say “good morning.”
  2. When you pass someone in the hallway or yard, it is polite to say “hi!”
  3. When someone is leaving for the day it is polite to say “good bye” “have a great day” or see you tomorrow. “
Strategy: To work on this skill, practice role playing with your child. Another idea is to write up a list of greetings and practice them in the natural environment.

Teach your child how to start or maintain a conversation?

Explain to your child that there are many ways to start a conversation.  A good idea is to discuss something that is happening in the present moment or something that happened earlier in the day or the previous day.

Below is a nice hierarchy to teach your child about a back-and-forth conversation.
  • Start with a greeting.
  • Ask a question about what your listener is doing or what he did.

What are you playing? What are you eating? How was school today? What did you do over the weekend?

  • Ask follow-up questions using WH Questions.

Who did you play with? Where did you buy that ball?When did you go to the beach?

Strategy: Try teaching this to your child using conversation cards or building blocks. Use the building blocks as a visual aid to show your child how we build a conversation.

Don’t Be a Space Invader!

One of the hidden social rules of conversation is to sit or stand at an appropriate distance from your listener. Explain to your child that when  we sit or stand too close to our listener we call this “invading their space.”

Learn more about space invaders from Michelle Garcia Winner on her Social Thinking Website.  Click here for a great handout that teaches this skill.

Strategy: A rule of thumb to teach your child with Autism is to stand arm’s length away.


Explain to your child that when someone else is talking we use our mind and body to be a good listeners.

Here are some rules to keep in mind when being a good listener.
  1. Make eye contact
  2. Stay still. Make sure we have quiet hands and feet.
  3. Quiet Mouth. We are careful not to speak when other people are speaking.
  4. Wait for a pause in the conversation before saying something. A pause is when others stop talking.
  5. Ask a question about what the speaker is saying. This shows the speaker that you are interested in what they have to say.
Strategy: Make a social story to teach this to your child.


Explain to your child that the general rule for conversation is to keep a quiet mouth when someone else is speaking. Sometimes it is ok to interrupt the speaker.

When is this okay?
  1. If you need help
  2. If there is an emergency
  3. If you want something.
Be sure to explain to your child the right way to interrupt?
  1. Read the Room. Make sure it is an appropriate time to interrupt. If there is a group of people listening to a speech it would not be appropriate to interrupt the speaker unless there is a real emergency such as a fire. If there is a two person conversation, it may be appropriate to interrupt when you need information or guidance. Use your social thinking skills to make this decision.
  2. Walk up to the speaker and wait for a pause in their conversation or activity.
  3. Say “excuse me..” and ask for what you need or want.
  4. Wait for their response. Do not ask it twice. Wait for them to reply.
  5. Say “thank you” before leaving.
Strategy: Try teaching this skill using video modeling with your child.

 Ending a conversation

Last, we want to teach your child how to end a conversation.

Explain to your child that there are many ways to end a conversation.

Begin by asking your child, why they would want to end a conversation.

  1. You are bored
  2. It is time for you to leave.
  3. You to do something else
  4. You want to talk to someone else
Explain to your child that before ending the conversation make sure to :
  1. Think: “Do I want to end this conversation? “
  2. Wait until you have asked at least one question and the person has already answered it.
  3. Say, “It was nice talking with you, but I have other things that I have to do right now. I’ll see you later. “
Teach your child signals to know that it is time to stop talking?
  1. Look for signs that your listener is interested in what you are talking about.
  2. If the listener does not look interested or looks bored, ask “do you want to hear more.
  3. It the listener does not want to hear more than a. stop talking b. ask “what do you want to talk more about now?”

A lot of information on the article above is based on the teachings of Dr. Jed  Baker PH.D