Conversations – even seemingly simple exchanges – carry a heavy cognitive load. You have to pay attention to what the other person is saying, plan out what you will say in return and control your impulse to blurt out your response. But that’s not all. Outside of your awareness, you are interpreting visual signals and changes in grammar and pitch from your partner about their interest level, discerning the appropriate length of your turn and giving and receiving indications that it’s time to switch turns.
An article in The Atlantic highlights findings about conversational transitions. Across all ten languages (from five continents) studied by a group from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, there is a common tendency to minimize the silence between turns while also minimizing overlaps. The average gap was found to be 200 milliseconds (2/10ths of a second) and there was only a half-second difference between the shortest and longest gaps across the languages. The existence of a universal pause between turns implies it is noticeable when a deviation from that standard occurs. Deviations can lead to misperceptions of the intentions or abilities of a conversational participant. A longer than normal gap can lead your partner to assume you don’t have something worthwhile to say and a shorter gap can be interpreted as rudeness or disinterest.
How iLs can help: The VoicePro’s air/bone conduction headphones with built-in mic allow for movement during functional language training and the direct voice/ear feedback loop amplifies sound. Hearing one’s own voice as well as the therapist’s voice amplified helps those with autism and other developmental challenges learn social cues needed for effective communication. Practicing turn taking in conversation using the VoicePro can help to smooth communication and also strengthen executive functioning. The VoicePro also includes exercises for strengthening speech with background noise, dichotic listening and other aspects of auditory processing.