Saturday, September 4, 2010

CONVERSATION, The Key To Success / The Wisdom of "Dr Jim"

Today's blog entry comes from "Dr. Jim", aka, Dr. James D. MacDonald.

The Key to Success

Especially for persons with developmental delays such as Autism, Aspergers, Down syndrome, Motor and Attention disorders.

Dr. James D. MacDonald
Professor emeritus, Ohio State University
The Communicating Partners Center, Columbus, Ohio

A personal letter to anyone concerned about someone with problems having conversations.

Imagine a life without conversations. Imagine being isolated from the world without the basic rules of conversation. Imagine having few or no friends because conversation is not easy, natural or enjoyable for you. Imagine having worked hard to learn a lot in school but few around you realize it since a lack of conversations creates a wall between you and society.

Sounds pretty terrible, no?

I know a great many persons who live such lives without conversation. They include both children and adults. Many are persons who are "late to talk" or diagnosed with Autism, Asperger's syndrome, Down syndrome, Neurological and motor disorders, ADD-ADHD, Environmental deprivation and other conditions limiting conversations. Many are typical children who fall through the social cracks without conversational skills and miss much learning and social progress.

I know many persons who succeeded in learning language, only to be just as isolated as they were without language. Why? They did not know how to have conversations. All that hard work learning language may have paid off in schoolwork but not in a real social life. Language without conversation can be like a Mercedes car without gas. Conversation is the key to your child 's learning, socializing, and being truly included.

THINK ABOUT THIS: Consider everything you know and use in daily life---then, ask yourself: How much of that did I learn in school or direct teaching and how much did I learn in daily interactions with life partners? I know that I learn much more from conversations than from direct teaching.

Traditional educational, therapeutic and behavioral programs work very hard teaching children to learn facts, repair problems, and behave acceptably. Unfortunately, little serious attention is usually paid to teaching the conversation skills essential for successful personal and work relationships. Communicating Partners is a program committed to helping every person, regardless of their delays to have a CONVERSATIONAL LIFE.


Our 30+years of clinical research reveal several disturbing findings (MacDonald, 2004; MacDonald and Mitchell, 2002) and unsupported beliefs that keep our children from conversational lives.

1. Many believe conversations require a lot of language.
2. School programs require conversation skills for success.
3. Many expect conversations come automatically with language.
4. Consequently, there are very few direct efforts to teach conversation.
5. Many accept questions/answer routines and monologues as satisfactory conversations.
6. Without conversations, people appear less competent than they are.
7. Many do not believe that conversation skills can be learned.
8. Many are unaware that children learn more in conversations than in school.
9. Conversations are often discouraged in education and therapy.
10. Conversation skills are rarely taught in school or therapy.


Widespread research findings show the above assumptions to be untrue and actually harmful to a child's development. Those research and clinical findings support the conclusions below that are the bases of the Communicating Partners approach to Conversation learning.

1. Fundamental conversation skills can be learned long before speech: the earlier they are learned, the easier a conversation life develops.

2. Many interventions and schools teach cognitive, behavioral and adaptive skills when the children lack conversation skills to put the skills to use in daily life. Without conversation skills, that learning is stored away and wasted.

3. Many educational approaches actually train children to NOT have conversations as a key part of their learning. When children are discouraged from interacting they cannot become conversational.

4. Conversations do not automatically come with language; many children have elaborate language but poor conversation skills,and many are as isolated as when they had no language

5. We cannot consider any assessment of a child's intelligence or other competencies if child has poor conversation skills.Consequently, conversation skills will reveal the real child. Remember, conversation begins at birth, so we are talking about any meaningful social exchange as a conversation. Question assessments that do not include easy playful interactions.

6. Conversations simply mean going back and forth meaningfully with partners with any behaviors-actions, sounds, as well as words. Consequently, children need to learn conversation rules long before they talk. ---Rules such as Initiating and Responding to people, Playing more with people than things, Imitating and modeling others, Turntaking and Taking the other person's perspective. Each of these skills can begin very early in life, when their life partners enter the child's world.

7. Partners must help children have conversations with actions and sounds first-Without that learning children are likely to use language mainly to satisfy needs and perform. And real relationships do not happen that way.

8. Conversation can be learned as well as other social skills: The five responsive strategies of Communicating Partners are the key to becoming conversational. Many parents have helped children have conversational vs. isolated lives.

9. Clearly we learn and retain much more information that we get from daily conversations than from being directly taught. The social process makes learning more lasting and enjoyable.

10. Children learn much more in social contacts than in academic or behavioral drills, especially when those contacts are conversational. Do not expect your child to learn conversations in school. One to one intimate interactions are needed.

11. And remember, the major problem in for our children is SOCIAL ISOLATION AND LONELINESS, not lack of school-learning. Consequently, if INCLUSION is what you want for your child, CONVERSATIONS ARE THE KEY not academic learning.

For practical programs for building conversational lives, see
the key book: Communicating Partners ( etc)

1 comment:

walking said...

#2 and #3 is why I do Charlotte Mason. Narration is basically a conversation about what you read . . .

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