ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Thursday, July 13, 2006: 12:00 PM-1:30 PM
Ballroom E
#2073- Making Small Talk: How to Help Children Have Conversations and Make Friends
This presentation will outline strategies parents learn in Small Talk a new program developed by the Hanen Centre in Toronto. This program is designed for children with ASD, aged 3 to 7, who are verbal and might have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome or mild PDD. It offers a simple approach to helping a child develop better social skills so he or she can have conversations and make friends more easily.

Presenter:Fern Sussman, B.A., MHSc, The Hanen Centre, Speech Language Pathologist - Fern Sussman is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of clinical expertise in supporting children with autism and social communication disorders. She is the program manager for More Than Words – The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Small Talk - The Hanen Program® for Promoting Conversation and Friendships in Children with ASD. Fern is also the author of both the More Than Words and Small Talk parent guidebooks.
The majority of the presentation will focus on the strategies taught in Small Talk so that members of the audience will leave with some practical ideas. These strategies fill a longstanding need for information on how to help support young verbal children with social communication challenges. While the program is designed for parents, the techniques described in this presentation can be used by all of the important people in a child's life: teachers, grandparents and babysitters.

The presentation will begin by describing what parents and professionals can do in their everyday interactions with the child. The audience will have a chance to analyze their own Interaction Style and the effect that it has on the child's willingness to engage in conversations.

The first strategy presented from Small Talk will show how adults can help the child understand the subtle messages people send with body language and facial expressions. Once a child can grasp the meaning behind the words they will have more success both interacting with adults and other children. Using a strategy called, Hooks Get Looks, the presenter will explain how simple techniques such as: being face to face with the child; doing the unexpected; giving toys and food to the child bit by bit and even making mistakes on purpose, can facilitate the child's motivation to seek out information from faces.

The second strategy, called Tuning In addresses the development of Theory of Mind or the ability to take the perspective of another person. The audience will learn what and how they can talk to a child, depending on his level of understanding, so that he begins to tune in to the thoughts and feelings of other people. For example, by simply by talking about what family members want to eat for dinner, a parent can show his or her child that two people don't always want the same things and don't always hold the same opinions. This idea that we're not all thinking in the same way is at the heart of understanding what's going on in the minds of others.

The presentation will then focus on the adult's role as coach in peer play. Being a coach means knowing how to set up a play date, when to step out and when to step back in to the help the play keep going. The audience will learn how to direct conversations back to the children when one of them pays more attention to the adult, how to promote pretend play between the children and the kinds of support that children need to continue staying, playing and talking together. Some children will need more support than others but Small Talk emphasizes the importance of letting the child do as much as he can before stepping in. The strategy called Use your ICUES gives the adult play coach some guidelines: interpret as much as possible the meaning behind what the child is trying to say and then give the least amount of help that the children need to continue playing, such as a subtle cue like showing the children a prop that they could incorporate into their play. Telling a child what to do is always the last option.


When the audience leaves the presentation, they will realize that the strategies in Small Talk aren't about teaching social skills through drills or memorization. They are about giving the child new opportunities to learn by doing - by socializing with parents, teachers and other children all through the day.

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