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Positive Word Choices


To get and keep a job, the young person with high functioning ASD will be interacting with a variety of people, and through these interactions he or she will be presenting either a positive or negative image to others. In competitive employment, his or her “personal presentation” can make or break whether he/she gets the job, the relationships formed on the job, his/her reputation, and his/her work outcome. The personal presentation skills that are needed include positive body language and voice tone, and also what we call “positive word choices”, among others (please see the books Autism and Employment: Raising Your Child With Foundational Skills For The Future and 101 Positive Steps Toward Employment With Autism: Social Skills For The Workplace).


In our blogs and books, we emphasize that a young person on the autism spectrum must work toward positive body language and voice tone, i.e. looking and sounding “up beat” and friendly. In fact, how we say something is often more important than what we say. But we also know that anxiety and the autism itself often make it challenging for many individuals on the autism spectrum to convey positive body language and voice tone consistently when interacting with others. Selecting the right words to say (positive word choices) are also part of the positive presentation for a person on the autism spectrum, and for some individuals positive word choices may be more concrete and obvious, and easier to achieve consistently, than positive body language.


Speaking with positive words can be increased, if you set it up concretely (visually) and practice at home (please see our blogs and books for suggestions about how to encourage your young person to work collaboratively with you for their benefit). I suggest that you post the categories below in a central location, write down positive word choice examples for each category as you hear them or think of them from interactions in your lives together, and then you should actually use the word choices you come up with and encourage them to be used often (practice!), celebrate them, and even reward the word choices whenever you hear them. Talk about how you are making others feel comfortable with your words, because that is the goal!


Positive word choices can be grouped in different ways, but here are some positive word choice categories, and some examples in each to get you started:


  • Kind words: “I’m sorry to hear that”, “I appreciate it”, “Can I help you with that?”, "Are you okay?"

  • Compliments: "You are really good at this", “That was a big help to me”

  • Polite words: “I’m sorry”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “Please”

  • Encouraging him/herself and others: “You can do it”, “I’m almost done!”, “Way to go!”

  • Tact (instead of “I don’t want to do that”, for two different scenarios): “I prefer to do the new work after I finish what I am doing now--is this okay with you?”; “It’s not something I am comfortable with yet, but if you help me I will try”.


Emphasize that the point of positive word choices is to make others feel comfortable. To make others comfortable, it is also important to avoid talking too much, talking at the wrong times, saying something too personal, or speaking on topics where other people have strong opinions or feelings. And always try to remember to have a friendly face and voice while practicing positive word choices!

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