• Autism Help UK

How do I teach my teenager to communicate?

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Conversations have a rhythm to them. A certain flow helps keep the dialogue alive. Many teenagers are in the same boat where they are learning to maintain a stronger dialogue through listening skills and generally a lot of practice.


  • communicating with teens

  • Understanding the challenges

  • Tips to help

Communicating with teens

Teenagers face many daily hurdles and challenges. Education is the biggest one. In many situations, your child will need to communicate with different people on a daily basis.

Autistic teenagers will also be in the same boat where they are learning to develop their social abilities but will struggle in certain areas.

It is found in some autistic children that they like to dominate a conversation and keep to topics and points that are only relevant to them. This is healthy and shows a good engagement however for the conversation to flow their needs to be a give and a take.

Understanding the challenges

Teenagers are generally very critical and tend to make snap decisions due to an under-developed thought process which comes as a person matures and gains more experience.

In some cases, teenagers will feel like they are being treated differently due to certain beliefs or hobbies or even personal traits which will differ from others. Again this is normal behavior for teenagers and is something that should be taken into account when practicing communication skills with your autistic teenager.

Tips to help

Teaching your teenager communication skills doesn’t happen over the span of a night. It is a repetitive practice that will come with time. At home, you can go through the following to enhance their ability to speak more clearly.

When to start a conversation

This is a skill that is crucial to learn. It is the starting point to open a dialogue that can set the tone for the conversation. Starting a conversation is about timing. Making sure you are not interrupting someone and waiting for your turn to speak.

Body language

When talking to someone you ideally don't want to be too far away, or right up to their face. An appropriate distance is around an arm's length away. Just enough to feel close but not entering comfort zones.

Conversation starters

The way you start a conversation changes depending on the person you speak to -

If you want to start a normal conversation with someone a good way to open is a greeting followed by a question. For example “Hello, how are you?”. Using names can further progress a dialogue.

If you are looking for help a good way to approach someone is to “excuse me” and then await the response.

How to talk in the conversation

Any conversation will have a give and take and sometimes it's about finding the balance. Allow time in between questions and allow room for people to talk. Try to take it in turns so you are both answering and asking questions.

Being polite is also key. Remember to use adequate manors so you seem well presented and approachable.

What to say in the conversation

This again depends on who you speak to but being open is generally a good way to approach most conversations.

As a reminder, it is about practicing the ability so your child feels comfortable talking and asking questions. So to start off It is good to share interests and hobbies so find out what your child likes and get them to open up to you about it. Ask questions about the topic and then share similar interests your child, in turn, can ask questions about.

Topics that might be appropriate to talk about include TV programs, school lessons, or sports.

Being open is good but remember that there are certain topics you want to teach your child to avoid so there is no confrontation. An example of this is making a rude comment about someone's weight or how they dress.

What to do if there’s a problem in the conversation

If something has been said where it creates a divide or tension remember that manors go a long way. Saying sorry helps massively.

If your child is unsure of what they have said wrong then encourage them to ask questions about what they just said to hurt you. This is good practice that can help teach your child the differences between what is not to say in conversations.

How to end a conversation

There are many signs to look out for when a conversation ends. This can come from either one of the people in the conversation. Signs to look out for include:

  • The conversation comes to an end

  • Looking around the room

  • Yawning

  • Saying they need to be somewhere

If your child wants to leave the conservation a good way to end it is by saying “It was good talking I’ll be on my way” Or “I’d better be off now” or even “I’ll leave you to it” These are polite ways to let the person know they want to leave.

Key tips to remember:

It is important to naturally go through these steps at home with your child. Take the time to go through each step and repeatedly go through it. The first few times might not be clear and can take some practice but you’ll get there eventually.

When starting it is good to work on short conversations and then work up to longer conversations. Make sure you are clear and demonstrate a louder voice when delivering the important information so it highlights the importance. For example speak in a firm and slightly louder voice “Hello, How are you doing today?” then break into normal conversation.

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