Help Your Highly Verbal Child Answer Personal Questions

“If you have a child or adult (on the Autism Spectrum) who is highly verbal and can answer questions about factual information (e.g ‘Where is the soccer ball?’ ‘Who is the girl wearing the red coat?’ ‘Which character is this in the book?’), but they seem to have a challenge answering personal questions (that require their opinions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences,) here is an idea that you can try to help your child learn this skill.

“Incorporate personal questions into an activity your child already engages in with you. When we take activities that our children are familiar with and already feel successful at engaging in with us, they will be more likely to be open and available for us to help them.

“To prepare to incorporate this idea, write out some questions in advance (before you next spend time with your child) about things you would love to hear your child talk about. Write them on different strips of paper and put them in an envelope.

“Here are a few examples to get you started:

What is one of your hobbies?
What is a happy memory from your childhood?
What was the best birthday present you ever received and why?
What was something fun you did on your last vacation?
Would you prefer to go on a beach trip to Hawaii or a safari in Kenya and why?
When was a time you felt sad, and what was happening?
When was a time you felt excited in the past month?
If you could drive any car in the whole world, what would it be?

“Next time your child is engaging with you in a game or activity that they enjoy, you will incorporate the skill of them asking questions into that activity! Explain to your child that you have an exciting new step to add to the game. Tell your child this is going to help you both learn more about each other. If your child is giving you green lights (making eye contact, smiling, or responding to you), pull out the envelope with the questions you prepared and bring them into the game.

“For example:

• While playing Connect Four (or any other board game,) say ‘Ooh, I just remembered, I want to add some variety to our game, before we each take a turn, we’re each going to pull out a question from this envelope about ourselves, and talk about it together.’ Then go ahead and pull out the first question, say it aloud and answer the question yourself to demonstrate the concept.

• While playing with their favorite Marvel figurines, say ‘I have a great idea… Hulk, and Captain America should really get to know each other more. I have prepared some questions for them!’ Then pull a question out of the envelope and have Captain America ask Hulk the question on the envelope and then have Hulk answer in a fun and playful way.

• If your child is talking about their topic of interest (the Mr. Bean movie for example,) when they pause, and there is now room for you to respond, you can tell them a funny story about your favorite part in the movie, and then ask your child which part of the movie is their favorite part. If your child goes with you and answers the question, you can playfully exclaim ‘Hey, it’s really wonderful to know your thoughts… I have other things I wrote down that we could talk about together’. Then bring the envelope of questions over, pull one out and ask your child the question.
Keep in mind that your child may need processing time to reflect on and answer these questions, so be sure to leave a nice long pause after asking your child each question. If your child does not respond, you can go ahead and answer the question yourself to show your child (through demonstration) how to share more personal information with ease and delight.”

Written by Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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