People with autism often see social situations differently from others and find it hard to read ‘social cues’. It is extremely important to teach both what to do and why we do it, in different social situations. ‘Comic strip conversations’ can be used to address these difficulties and aim to improve a person’s social understanding. This is a particularly useful strategy to use with older children and young adults with autism.

So what are ‘Comic strip conversations’?

They are conversations between a person with autism and a supporting adult where comic-strip style drawings are used to help develop a better understanding of a social situation and to provide information about the expected or usual response in that situation.

They can be used to:

  • Report the past
  • Describe the present
  • Plan the future
  • Explore emotions and feelings

The strategy breaks down what has been said and what might have been thought in a very clear visual way.

‘Comic strip conversations’ give us the opportunity to see the social situation from the pupil’s point of view. To start with try to engage the pupil by using the strategy for a variety of different situations. This will show the child that talking and drawing can be an alternative and a fun way to communicate. Then, when a difficult situation has arisen, use the strategy to break down what happened visually and develop the drawings to show how the pupil could do things differently next time they find themselves in a similar situation.

The pupil’s view is key, as they become more familiar with the strategy, give them more opportunities to take control of the conversation, the supporting adult can then act as more of a guide.

There is a set symbols dictionary that can be used for ‘Comic strip conversations’, but as the pupil participates with the strategy allow them to create their own individual symbols as well.

Blank SEND Comic Strip 2 (Comic strip conversation pro-forma)

4 steps to a successful ‘Comic strip conversation’

Step 1: Begin with small talk

Begin the conversation with the basics – small talk, this may seem irrelevant but demonstrates how a conversation will start.

Step 2: Draw what happened

The small talk is over; now target the topic for the ‘Comic strip conversation’.

The educator should guide the pupil’s drawing with questions

  • What happened first?
  • Where were you standing?

If the pupil needs more directed support use statements instead, eg:

‘Draw the place you stood when this happened’

‘Draw the person you were with at the time of….’

Step 3: Summarise the situation

Summarise the conversation (this is important) you must do this before you identify solutions and key points within the conversation. This will ensure clarity and understanding.

Step 4: Conclude the conversation

At this point the pupil should be able to, or be supported to, identify a solution to the solution. If they are unable to do so they should listen to a possible solution from the supporting adult. Solutions should be drawn (but they can be written) and at this point you can go back and with what happened (if you are using a white board for example). Ask the child what other solutions could be considered and what they could do next time?

Once possible solutions have been identified, make a plan to look at the pros and cons of the situation. Ideally take a photo, or make a photocopy of the ‘Comic strip conversation’ for the pupil to keep.

For more information refer to Carol Gray’s ‘Comic strip conversations’ book (1994)