“When I saw a tweet from AUsome Training about how their Konnect Series of Social Skills books for children are “a celebration of our way of communicating and an introduction to non-autistic communication” – I was drawn in! So far, the majority of ‘Social Skills’ training, books and other resources I’ve seen for autistic children and adults are centred around the belief (either explicitly saying or not) that the autistic person needs to adapt their communication styles in order to fit in with others and that their own style of communication and socialising is incorrect or inferior. They look to teach the person that there is a right and wrong way to socialise and make friends and that autistic people need to learn these ‘rules’ if they are to make meaningful relationships or be successful at school or work.The whole ethos of this types of training seems to be that the way non autistic people communicate is how everyone should communicate. This will and does undoubtedly have, at the very least a subconscious negative message to those autistic people undergoing this training.
This is why it was so refreshing to see a new angle from AUsome Training. AUsome Training was set up by Evaleen Whelton in 2017. Evaleen “made the wonderful discovery that she is autistic in 2014 at the age of 37” and wanted to make a difference in the way much of the existing training around and about autism was taught. All their training is designed and delivered by autistic people and their aim is to make a positive change – and they have certainly achieved that!
I asked Evaleen if I could review their products and was kindly sent the 3 books in their Konnect Social Skills series.There are 3 activity books in the series, and you can choose to purchase them in either a digital or printed format. At first glance, they look friendly and inviting and this continues throughout.The first book is for children aged 4+, the second is for aged 6+ and the third for aged 8+ and they should be followed in succession.The first thing that stood out to me, was this description on the front cover:”Social Communication Activities for Neurodiverse Kids, written by a Neurodiverse teacher”.This in itself is quite uncommon, so I excitedly continued!
Straight away, it explains that people communicate in many different ways; some use their bodies, speech, typing, their hands or a combination of them all and that “everyone can talk and everyone has important things to share. We just do it in different ways”.This is such an important and empowering piece of information for all children (and adults) to know and believe, but is often glossed over or not mentioned at all in many ‘Social Skills’ lessons.The book then goes on to give some nice examples and activities to do, to further explore that child’s way of communication and think about others’ styles.
A really interesting activity in Konnect 1, is the ‘Using Words’ section. I carried this out with my 2 autistic children (11 and 14 years old). It explains that some people use words just as they are meant, where as others might not be so clear. Examples:1. When I want an ice cream I might say:“Can I have an ice cream please?” Someone else might say: “An ice cream would be lovely.”2. When I am hungry I might say :“I’m hungry.” or “Can I have something to eat?”Someone else might say “I could eat a horse” Both my children answered with similar statements to the first examples – clearly and no one could be in any doubt that either they wanted an ice cream or that they were hungry.When I put the alternative statements to them, they were confused, laughed and were not sure what the person was telling them.When I explained it was an indirect way of saying the same thing, they remained confused and wondered why the person just didn’t say what they meant! I couldn’t argue with that!
This was a great learning point for all of us and we could then all see that we had to learn how each other communicates in order to understand each other better. The refreshing part is, that the book did not say that one way of communicating was better than the other, it simply shows that there are different ways and we will all benefit if we understand these differences in order for everyone to communicate more effectively. Konnect 1 also looks at emotions, expressing feelings, tone of voice, making friends and how to make conversations flow and how to end them.It has great activities and role play ideas to give children the chance to practice these in a safe environment. It explains gently, what types of body language and other cues to look out for in other people, when in a social situation, but never suggests they should change their own behaviours to fit in with the ‘norm’. In fact, at the end of book 1, it includes these lovely statements….”There are lots of different people in the world andthere are many different ways of thinking, of beingand of communicating….”It’s important to remember that your ideas, your thoughts and your feelings are just as important as everyone else’s”
Konnect 2 builds on the information taught from the previous book and starts with another wonderful, confidence boosting statement:”Some people don’t realise that Autistic people have our own language. We are just beginning to teach them about it.”Again, this instantly reassures the child that however they are communicating themselves, is just fine. It then offers various ways to help the child if they find communication difficult at times. It addresses the issues of anxiety, helps to de-code non-autistic people’s body language and continues with the ‘building blocks’ of conversation. Another useful statement is: “People who are not Autistic need signals to know they are being listened to. Because we give different signals,they are unable to read them.”I love the way this miscommunication is completely reframed and not seen as the fault of the autistic person, as is so often the case in other training.There are so many great quotes I could take, but a particularly important one for the non-autistic community to take heed of is this…”Because we can look like we are not listening it’s important that other people understand autistic body language and that we listen best when we are moving.”The rest of the book then covers ‘mixed messages’, how to best express yourself and your feelings, building up friendships, volume of your voice and how to stand up for yourself. All these topics are again combined with real-life style and often fun activities.It ends on a high note, boosting the child and reminding them that “Body language can help us to be assertive too!”
Konnect 3, the final book in this Konnect Social Skills series follows the same structure and mixes practical and relevant activities with confidence boosting information.This book includes looking at what we communicate, relaxation techniques and tone, pace and pitch of yours and others’ voices and how this tells people what the person might be feeling.There were some fun activities here, where myself and my children had to say the word “Really” showing different feelings. This proved to be quite difficult for some similar feelings, like happy & excited.It was very interesting to discover that sometimes, my children could not tell the difference easily between my ‘annoyed’ and ‘disbelief’ tone or ‘angry’ and ‘surprised’. This was another important learning point for all of us again and showed us all how easy it is to misinterpret what the other person means – especially if body language can’t be used or facial expressions. Phone calls must be particularly tricky conversations for many.This book goes into more complex detail about voices, inflection, sarcasm and figurative language and speech. The use of exaggeration is nicely explained here, as always from the autistic person’s point of view.We had some real fun with the ‘metaphors’ part, where the children had to guess what each metaphor meant, for example “When we say someone is a pig, we really mean that….”. It really highlighted how random a lot of metaphors are and how confusing they must be to many people.More work is covered on conversations, different people’s perspectives, tone, joining and leaving a group situation and ‘How we feel about ourselves’
After reading through and carrying out the activities in the Konnect Social Skills Books series I can honestly say that I don’t have any negative comments to point out. All 3 books were so brilliant at boosting the child’s confidence straight away, by coming from their own autistic/neurodiverse viewpoint and explaining everything in the light of ‘difference’ and not that one way or the other is correct or incorrect.My children definitely came away from this feeling like both autistic and non-autistic people have a different way of communicating and that both have to learn from each other.I’d highly recommend these books to be used with children, by their parents, carers, teachers and all other professionals and workers who are in their lives.”
This was exactly the inspiration we needed to get cracking on book 4 and 5 and ….