Teaching kids with autism the art of conversation

A National Public Radio story I heard the other day talked about a program at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute that teaches social skills to kids with autism.

For children like Alex with autism, social interactions are a struggle. But Freedman is part of a team of researchers at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute that has developed a course to help these kids improve their social skills. The program is called Building Up Development of Socialization, or BUDS.

Alex says he is doing better than he used to since starting the program several months ago.

“I had a perfect week last week,” he tells Freedman. “I was never going into the red zone.” That refers to a number of behaviors that get Alex in trouble.

Alex and several other children with mild autism have been meeting every week with Freedman and autism specialist Elizabeth Stripling. The idea is to teach the social skills that most kids pick up without even thinking about it.

The story follows Alex and another student, Joseph, as they go on field trips and learn to talk and listen to each other. What I liked best about the piece is how it emphasized that when it comes to kids with autism, it’s all about coaching and practice, not just rules.

“One of the problems that kids with autism can run into is that when they’re taught very rigid rules, they only stick to those rules,” Freedman explains. “So we try to help them understand some nuances within interaction.”

If you missed the story, you can hear it online. Check it out!


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  1. Beth Finke Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree, it must feel very lonely sometimes, it being so difficult to communicate. Your friend is lucky to have you, and you’re lucky to know him, too!

  2. when is easter 2012 Says:

    I personally know someone with autism and it’s one of the hardest mental illnesses someone could have. From the outside you would think he’s a very cold person but once you get to know him you understand why he does certain things. I know that he struggles a lot with his illness and feels like noone really understands him. He’s a great guy but he just can’t express that easily to other people (emotionally). Teaching kids at an early age to communicate is the best thing you could do for someone with autism. Keep up the good work.

  3. Tarifvergleich Says:

    nd although i know you are at your wit-s end, individuals with autism can learn to communicate effectively so that they do not have to resort to aggression towards self and others, this is often called functional communication training.

  4. autismus Says:

    Nice website about autism. i am from germany and i search for interesting articles so that i can link other autism website from my german autism project autismus1.de

  5. betty Says:

    looking for good things and social groups for 18 year old

  6. Patricia Wright Says:

    Dear Margaret – The needs for services and supports for adults with autism is a growing crisis. Entitlement services typically end at age 21. As your son is now 22 accessing appropriate service and supports becomes increasingly more challenging. You sound like you are engaging in excellent advocacy work via contacting your government officials. I also have found that parents of individuals with autism are often aware of services and supports. I would encourage you to contact your local support groups and engage in dialogue with parents who may have been in a similar situation and found a solution. The Autism Society of America has a chapter locator which may be a good place to start (

    And although I know you are at your wit’s end, individuals with autism can learn to communicate effectively so that they do not have to resort to aggression towards self and others, this is often called Functional Communication Training. A brief description of Functional Communication Training can be found here (http://www.asatonline.org/resources/procedures/functional2.htm). Perhaps as you are awaiting residential placement for your son you would be able to access behavioral health services that could assist with him learning to communicate and reduce his aggression.
    I am sorry that accessing services has been such a challenge for your family. Easter Seals hears the need and is trying to advocate for the development of services and supports so that families like yours do not have to reach the crisis level that you are currently experiencing.

  7. duha alasfar Says:

    I am very interested to learn more about teaching kids with autism the art of conversation,please reply ,my son needs this service .

  8. Margaret Turner Says:

    HELP!!! I have a 22/y/o severely autistic son who I can not find placement for. I can no longer care for him. His violent out bursts have bruised and bloodied not only himself but me! According to AL Medicaid he does not qualify for a medicaid waiver to help cover group home costs. I have written to the Governor and my Senators for help. Apparently their hand are tied and can only write letters.

    It pains me to say this but I have to get this young man out of my house. I have another child (16y/o) who is suffereing greatly because of the actions of his older brother.

    In addition I have had to give up my job to stay home and care for him. Which means I lost my health ins and life ins for me, my husband and youngest son. I have looked into having someone sit with him but they all want $10-$25 per hour and I worked in an elementary cafeteria making maybe $6. per hour I just can’t afford to pay someone. Not to mention the liability if and when he “flips out” and hurts them.

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