All of us engage in scripted speeches in our lives since we started speaking. Someone asks, “How are you?”, and you learn to reply, “I’m fine, thank you.” Or, a simple “Thank you,” is expected to follow up with a “You’re welcome.” These ‘scripted’ speeches are there to reduce our cognitive load in constructing a novel reply every time we are faced with the same utterances. However, it is easier for people without ASD to learn to only use these scripted speeches in context. For people, let alone children, with ASD, it may take a bit more practice and effort.
We are familiar that children with ASD do have a tendency to display repetitive behaviours, whether they are manifested physically or verbally. Scripted speeches (i.e. scripting) are part of these repetitive behaviours where the child repeats words, phrases or sounds. Common scripted speeches are learnt from videos, televisions, books, or people that the child interacts with. These speeches may be out of context, and sometimes, the communication intent is not obvious. It is especially common for children who are just learning to speak. In this article, we will be discussing the pros and cons of scripting in order to increase our understanding of this heavily misunderstood behaviour.
Functions of Scripting
Scripting serves several functions. As part of a self-stimulating (stimming) behaviour, it does help a child self-regulate and self-soothe when the child is feeling anxious or overly excited. In light of that, scripting may be a way that a child expresses his/her emotions too. Although the utterances may not make sense to us in that situation, the child may actually be attempting to communicate, albeit through a method that we do not understand. There are some accounts of parents who reported that scripting has actually helped their child unlock the ability to speak. Not too bad after all!
Downsides of Scripting
However, repeating the same words or phrases over and over again, especially when they are out of context, can be disruptive in everyday living. It can impede learning in different areas like communication skills, academics, and may even cause inconveniences to others around them. Memorizing the sequence of words and producing them irrelevantly may also obstruct interactions with others and prevent them from learning and practicing their communication skills. In addition, due to the ‘calming effect’ this behaviour has on the child, it may be extremely reinforcing and could be difficult to manage when it’s done incessantly. In the long run, if this behaviour is not managed, there could be some backfiring effect.
How to Reduce Scripting?
On that note, although most therapists prefer to work with a child who is scripting than a child who does not speak at all, it is important to actively work on this behaviour that can help the child in the long run. Based on the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) principles, we can look out for the function of particular scripted speeches. This can be done through analyzing the antecedents (what happens before the scripting occurs), and the consequences (what happens after the scripting occurs).
If the scripting seems to be random and serve no particular function, it is best to ignore and divert the child’s attention away. On the other hand, if there seems to be a known function, we could replace the scripted speeches with something more functional by saying the statement and getting the child to repeat after you.
For instance, if a child tends to repeat a phrase that is out of context (e.g. “The sheep saw the wolf and ran away”) when he/she is upset or stressed, replacing the phrase with something along, “I am sad/scared” would help the child understand that there can be other ways to express themselves.
Ultimately, all we want is for our child to be able to communicate their needs and reduce their stress of not being able to do that. Scripting can be a good thing if the child has not been verbal, but can also be a behaviour to work on in order to help our child navigate in this world. As such, having the right guidance and teachings will be extremely helpful.
Written by: Tiffany
Autism and scripting. The Place for Children with Autism. (2020, June 18). Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://theplaceforchildrenwithautism.com/autism-blog/autism-and-scripting
Scripting - how it unlocked my autistic child's speech. KellyKelly is a mother of two – her son H and daughter Tink. H is home educated. (2019, February 11). It's a Tink Thing. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://itsatinkthing.com/scripting-and-echolalia/
Delayed echolalia and scripting in children with autism. Autism Mom, ABA Help for Professionals and Parents. (2021, September 15). Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://marybarbera.com/delayed-echolalia-and-scripting-in-children-with-autism/