Conversation Starters

It is common for individuals with autism to have difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations. Conversation starters are strategies that assist children with autism in initiating and maintaining conversations and improving reciprocal interactions with peers.

Video Demonstration Strategy

Credits: Amanda Arnold Elementary, Manhattan KS

How To Use

Conversation starters are useful strategies for addressing initial conversations between children with autism and their peers. The concept of conversation starters is similar to preparing for a public speech: The person purposefully prepares an outline and speech content, followed by anticipating possible conversations with the audience, or a rehearsal. For children with autism who need planning and prompts before initiating conversations in a naturally social context, conversation starters provide materials for practicing the thinking process in any potential conversations.

One example of a conversation starter is a Conversation Map (Bellini, 2006). The Conversation Map is a sequential framework that illustrates important elements of a potential conversation, such as the conversation partner, topics, interests, scripted initiation, and practice. Because visual cues are generally effective for children with autism, text or visual scripts or cue cards are also effective for initiating and maintaining conversations (Sarokoff, Taylor, & Poulson, 2001). Scripted planning procedures can address initial encounters and meaningful conversations in a predictable, controlled, and less stressful manner.

Conversation starters may be used in educational settings during social skills training as a way of enhancing communication planning and problem solving. Specific skills related to a child’s challenging areas may be embedded into conversation planning. In addition to school settings, these strategies can be used at home or in community settings when parents or adults are provided with guidelines and materials for planning conversations.

When To Use

Can be used in any home, school or community setting.

Steps in Conversation Starters

The following are steps/guidelines for using a Conversation Map (Bellini, 2006):

  • Select a child to play with. In order to begin a meaningful conversation, a child should select a conversation partner to interact with.
  • Determine reason for playing with child. The child understands the intention of interacting with the conversation partner.
  • Identify other child’s interest. It is important to know the interest of the other child to ensure the conversation will be meaningful for both parties.
  • Select topic of planned conversation. For a conversation to maintain, the content is important. The child has to decide a topic or theme to have a conversation about.
  • Develop scripted initiation and expected response. Based on the selected topic, a series of anticipated statements/questions is listed to prepare for the initiation.
  • Select best setting to initiate conversation.To promote more natural social interaction, the child must be aware of the location where the conversation takes place.
  • Practice. After completing the conversation scripts, the child rehearses how to perform the conversation.



  • When using conversation starters, some prompt-fading techniques may be used to promote generalization of conversation skills. For instance, Sarokoff and his colleagues (2001) used script-fading procedures with embedded textual stimuli to teach conversational exchanges to children with autism. The purpose was to gradually remove the words from the scripts and allow more unscripted or unprompted conversation in the child’s natural social situations


Jill Kuzma's SLP Social and Emotional Skill Sharing Site
Great ideas for teaching conversation skills to individuals with an ASD.


Ginger is a 10-year-old girl attending an inclusive classroom with pull-out services. She greets other classmates but has difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations. In order to promote social interaction, Ginger’s teacher decided to write a conversation script for Ginger to assist her initiating with other peers.
During social skills class, Ginger and her teacher selected several topics for discussing what other students did over the weekend. To begin, the teacher taught Ginger that this conversation should be carried out on Mondays. Next, they identified a conversation partner: the girl sitting by Ginger. The teacher and Ginger then listed the activities Ginger might do on weekends and wrote short descriptions for conversations. They also prepared some questions for Ginger’s potential conversation partner and wrote possible responses.
After completing the scripts, Ginger rehearsed the conversation dialogues with the teacher. Ginger felt more comfortable and confident talking about weekend activities with her conversation scripts.

Conversation starters are useful strategies for addressing initial conversations between children with autism and their peers

Target: Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching
TSLAT. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from 

National Professional Development Center on ASD
Autism PDC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from