Paul finds a way with words

GROWING up with, what was then called Asperger’s Syndrome, made it hard for Chapman’s Paul Jordan, 33, to make friends or even talk to other children.

As an adult, determined to break out of his social isolation, Paul found answers in “the art of conversation”.

Author Paul Jordan… sick of being “remarkably different”.

And, in particular, “scripts of thinking”, which uses 65 simple words that break conversations down and help people on the autism spectrum think of what to say.

Not wanting others to be ostracised like he was, Paul published a book titled “How to Start, Carry On and End Conversations”, which is designed to help 12-16-year-olds on the autism spectrum.

The book, which functions like a script, can be learned and applied to everyday life.

“It’s designed to be used for role playing with teenagers and their parents or guardians,” Paul says.

He says the book touches on complex ideas and puts them into simple words that anyone can understand.
“The idea is that young people on the autism spectrum can learn social skills with the aid of a thinking and speaking framework known as the Natural Semantic Metalanguage, or NSM,” he says.

“The NSM is based on the idea that all languages have a shared core of 65 simple words.”

Since Paul remained undiagnosed until he completed a university degree at the age of 29, he is eager to give younger people on the autism spectrum tools to fit in.

“I was trying to interact with some of my uni classmates and family friends, but it was quite limited and I preferred interacting with adults,” he says.

“I was sick of being remarkably different from other people.”

So, after studying language and linguistics at the ANU, he went on to study a Master of Translation and came up with a simple way to tackle a difficult problem.

“We think about everything differently from other people, and that’s where we can get into trouble,” he says.

“We have to ‘learn’ how to get along with others.”

But it didn’t just affect Paul’s social life. Even at university he struggled to interpret the ambiguous language in exams or assignments, so in 2013 he successfully lobbied for assignment questions to be written using straight-forward language.  

“You have different ways of thinking about things, ways that are different from the ways that people who are not on the autism spectrum think,” Paul says.

“Autistic people tend to take everything literally, without knowing whether something is said seriously or as a joke.”

People on the autism spectrum usually have high IQs but, because of their naivete, Paul says they’re often viewed by their peers as “odd” and are frequently a target for bullying and teasing.

He says they want to fit in socially and have friends, but have a great deal of difficulty making effective social connections because they can’t do social “chit-chat” and often can’t “read” faces or expressions.

“From my experience, any kid in school who is different and doesn’t fit in will get bullied,” he says.

But this book teaches teenagers how to socialise to avoid being bullied, which Paul says will improve their mental health and boost their confidence.

“How to Start, Carry On and End Conversations” ($19.99) available from jkp.com

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