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Many fun social experiences, like going to the zoo or exploring a national park, have now been made virtual. This provides families with new, exciting things to talk about and experience together. For a list of these exciting experiences, click here. However, we know that individuals with autism can have difficulty engaging in social interactions, like back-and-forth conversations, especially about new topics. 

In order to support participation in conversation, have a whiteboard or piece of paper available for each person watching the video and have each person write down their favorite parts. You can also take pictures or screenshots if the individual understands pictures best. This will give everyone a visual to refer back to when engaging in conversation later on.

For individuals who are just beginning to engage in conversation, you can talk about your favorite parts of the video, by using words or by pointing to the pictures. For individuals who can carry on more nuanced conversations, you can support them by providing the structure of the conversation, while allowing them to come up with what they will say. For example, you can use post it notes to denote the flow of conversation, with one person’s role in pink and the other in yellow: 

post it note roles image

word bank image

Helpful Hints

  • If the individual has difficulty coming up with what to say, you can provide a type of “word bank” (see above example) to get them started.
  • When the individual begins to understand the structure, change up the number of post it notes and the symbols on each one. We want to make sure they understand that their role in conversation isn’t the same every time. This encourages flexibility and room for individualization when talking with other people.
  • For individuals that don’t use verbal speech as their primary method of communicating, use gestures and facial expressions to make these experiences social and special. Try positioning the video so that the individual can also see your face. For example, when a cool fish swims up to the camera when looking at the aquarium, make an exaggerated surprised face and say “wow!” while looking at the individual in order to shift their attention to you and make it a truly social experience.  

In times of uncertainty, everyone benefits from predictability!