Conversations are hard to start with any child, but add-in a communication disorder like autism, and you might be feeling a little stuck. The good news is that while it may take a bit longer to “break the ice”, typical conversation starters often work perfectly fine!
Here are our recommendations for progressing through chats during your clinic weeks. Be sure to comment below or in our private Facebook group (volunteers-only) with ones we should be adding in here!
On your first clinic day, basic questions will be the best to start conversations with. You’ll want to share more about yourself on this day because kids get nervous and quiet! When you share simple facts about yourself, you can find ways to relate to your buddy. For example, “I have a younger sister. Do you have any sisters?”
Keep in mind: your answers will most likely be memorized and repeated! You’re the most exciting new friend they’ve met this week, and sometimes, ever will meet. So don’t share anything you wouldn’t want repeated to the classroom!
- How old are you?
- Do you have siblings? If so how many? How old are they? What do you guys like to do together?
- Do you have any pets? If yes: What kind of pet? What’s his/her name? How old is he/she?
These questions are still relatively easy for young kids, but what makes these different are that they aren’t questions that are asked everyday. Many kids rehearse the answers to “My name is…” and “I live at…” and “My dog’s name is…” but these questions prompt some easy thinking and use of newer vocabulary. Stay patient as your buddies consider their answers, and don’t be surprised if you get a few listed answers when you hit a favorite topic!
- What are your favorite sports?
- What is your favorite sports team to follow/cheer for?
- Who is your favorite sports player?
- Do you have a favorite subject in school? If yes: What is it and why?
- What is your favorite animal?
- What’s your favorite food?
- What are your favorite movies and TV shows?
- What is your favorite kind of music to listen to? Do you have a favorite singer/band?
- What’s your favorite color?
- Do you have a favorite book?
Sometimes parents and family members get so caught off-guard by an autism diagnosis because the label threatens the hopes and dreams they had for their baby. To many, autism means the dreams will never come true, but it’s our job to prove that dreams do come true — you just have to adjust your expectations or the ways you thought of achieving those goals.
One of the ways we can reinsure parents is by sharing the positive answers our buddies share with us. Like, “Today, Tommy told me he wants to be an astronaut, which is awesome because I can see he loves studying the motion of play. He’s gonna be a natural in physics class!”
- If you could have any superpower what would it be and why?
- What’s your dream job? / What do you want to be when you get older?
- What do you like to do after school?
The Deeper Stuff
These questions prove trust and openness, which might be hard for a child to offer. Save questions like these for after your first clinic when you’ve gotten to know each other a little better. Oftentimes, sharing something special about how you feel or felt — and answering these questions first — prompts kids to share more about themselves.
- If you could go to any place in the world, where would it be and why?
- What do you like the most about yourself?
- What do you wish more people knew about you?
- What is the hardest part about being a kid right now?
Have any other ideas? Comment below!