The Book: Autism Conversations

Evaluating Children on the Autism Spectrum through Authentic Conversations

Where does the book title Autism Conversations come from?

Autism conversations refers to the approach of talking with parents and children during the evaluation process. Conversations with parents differ from clinical interviews because parents are encouraged to tell stories about their child and to describe positive qualities in addition to developmental challenges.

Conversations with children differ from traditional evaluation sessions because the evaluators encourage children to explore their areas of interest and to share their way of relating to the world.

Written conversations are evaluation reports that provide accessible and descriptive language about the child and they link the child’s behavioral profile with practical educational interventions.

In the course of my work evaluating thousands of children suspected of having autism spectrum disorders, I have found that more nuanced, descriptive and helpful profiles of children were obtained by encouraging parents and children to participate in “autism conversations.”

Who should read Autism Conversations?

Anyone with an interest in autism spectrum disorders will gain valuable information by reading Autism Conversations. Parents who suspect their child may have an autism spectrum disorder will learn to recognize the range of autism spectrum disorders and know what to expect when their child is evaluated by a team of professionals. Professionals who evaluate children will gain valuable tools to improve their assessment skills. People who want to learn more about autism spectrum disorders will benefit from the book’s accessible style.

Where can I purchase Autism Conversations?

Western Psychological Services (WPS) is the publisher and the book can be ordered from their website.

An excerpt from Autism Conversations appears in the Autumn 2009 issue of the magazine SI Focus. Download the article, Autism Conversations: The Sensory Entry Point.

The Evaluation Conversation

In this book, I describe my method of connecting with children on the autism spectrum using sensory toys and topics of interest. I approach my evaluation time with children as an opportunity to understand the child’s unique world view. Children on the autism spectrum immediately understand when an adult is trying to get them to follow the agenda of the adult and tend to resist this process. I make a connection with the child by carefully watching how the child interacts with the world and begin my interactions with the child on the child’s terms instead requiring the child to follow my agenda.

What does an evaluation conversation with a child look and sound like?

  • The child works with me to explore sensory toys and topics of interest. I call this having a “neuro-atypical” conversation.
  • The sensory-based conversation unfolds in a natural but methodical way depending on the child’s abilities.
  • When a child is nonverbal or has limited language, the introduction of sensory toys provides the conversational bridge.
  • Verbal children enjoy it when I jump into talking about their areas of interest and we share facts and details about the topics that fascinate them.
  • A “neuro-atypical” conversation takes the social and social language pressure off of the child; something that is fundamentally stressful for all children on the autism spectrum.
  • Children on the autism spectrum relax and share their worldview more extensively when they are approached in this conversational way.

My experience has been that children on the autism spectrum truly enjoy the opportunity to share a sensory-based conversation with others. And of course, I enjoy having the opportunity to get to know each child and to be able to describe the child’s unique way of interacting with the world in my conversations with that child’s parents and teachers.