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Conversation Starters: Advice from a Guy with Asperger’s

Hi everyone. My name is Todd. Those of us with Asperger’s (or high-functioning autism) typically dislike small talk and chit chat. But I’ve discovered over the years that if I don’t engage in that type of conversation (at least for a short time), I end up talking endlessly about what interests me – ONLY!

I say “only” because I have been known to put people to sleep with my rambling on and on about, in my case, current events. Yes, I’m a news junky, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is (which is what I used to think). However, when I do run into another news junky, we have a lot to talk about (and I have to remind myself to leave some space in the conversation for the other person to speak).

In any event, for those of you on the autism spectrum that get accused of singe-topic verbal diarrhea, here are 5 ideas that have worked for me that may help you to broaden your conversational horizons:

1. First of all, I will ask open-ended questions a lot. I find that most people love to talk about themselves. An open question involves an explanation for an answer rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no'. For example, "What sort of books do you like?" versus "Do you like books?" Open questions tend to begin with how, what, when, where, who, and why.

2. I also combine general remarks with open-ended questions. Since either one of these can be awkward on its own, I combine them for maximum effect. For example, at a recent seminar I attended on “How to Invest in Stocks,” I said to the gentleman sitting next to me, "Fantastic turnout! Which of the lecturers is your favorite so far?" This was the beginning of a very pleasant discussion on a topic of interest for the both of us.

3. As I said earlier, people like to talk about themselves. They also like to talk about their pets. Personally, I’m a cat lover (I have two rats as well, in their cage of course). Pets are often common ground with people you have nothing else in common with. Since I have pets, it's easy to relate to other animal lovers whether they prefer reptiles, dogs, horses, cats, or birds. While talking about my pets can be annoying to some people, asking them about their pets is a great way to get them to open up and start talking.

4. I also try to keep my questions non-invasive. I attempt to avoid inquiring about topics they may not want to discuss. For example, some people can be very uncomfortable discussing issues that tap in to their insecurities, such as weight loss, lack of having a degree, lack of having a romantic partner, and so on.

5. Lastly, I’ve discovered that my comfort level plays a big role in how others warm up to me. Starting a conversation is a relatively simple thing to do, but it’s more difficult to keep the conversation going. In times past, what was holding me back was that I was uncomfortable about going through with it. I could start it, but couldn’t finish it. I felt shy and insecure and thought I had nothing interesting to say and that I would be bothering the other person. If this is the case with you, know that it's important to work on increasing your comfort level. And the only way to accomplish this is with practice – lots of practice! Before long, you’ll be an expert in chit chat.

Best of luck!

Todd G.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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