Scripting and Autism

lettersFrequently accompanying the emergence of language in children with speech apraxia, are parental concerns that easy questions are only repeated back, or that the child merely recites phrases from videos, etc. They wonder, “How can we fix this?” Well, maybe, it doesn’t need to be fixed.

Definition(s)
It is interesting to note that, one meaning of the word, as it relates to autism, is as a treatmentScripting involves presenting learners with a verbal and/or written description about a specific skill or situation that serves as a model for the learner.”

An end-of-the-century research paper described scripting as, “…high rates of delayed echolalia.” A previously desired goal has been the extinction of that form of language, in order to help the patient appear more ‘normal’.

Described by one speech pathologist is the more commonly accepted definition, “Reciting lines from movies, commercials, books, etc. is a common occurrence… Some experts predict it is a coping mechanism that is used during high stress periods, hence, a form of ‘stimming’.”

Amythest Shaber (“Ask an Autistic”) presents her insightful point of view, by describing two types, echolalial and social scripting. The former is referred to as “TV talk”, while the latter represents language that the individual entrains to express their thoughts about an emotional or complicated situation. Both are forms of communication or opportunities for potential socialization.

Cause(s)
Children are exposed to constant prompting and repetition by therapists, teachers and family. It’s natural. This is one reason that siblings are often so helpful, because they seem to be the ones who best understand their brother or sister, without demanding or correcting.

There is frequent exposure to digital media. Often, an affected child may view just one section of a video over and over. Without constraints on the volume or frequency of viewing time, how can they not have these songs or scenes playing in their head?

You won’t see a 28 month old scripting. Children acquiring language in their second year are not able to observe and recall details like an intelligent 4 year-old. The timing of language acquisition is altered and so the patterns are transformed.

It is the manifestation of limited expressive language. If an individual has only 1/3 of the possibilities for output, repeating a phrase 3 times makes up the difference, regardless of the meaning.

Discussion
In Life, Animated, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, chronicled his success in reaching his son by encouraging this form of communication.

Likewise, the Son-Rise program advises ‘joining’ your child when they display repetitive scripting behaviors, so that they may be more likely to let the parent into their world.

Parents wish to understand whether such a strategy can be generalized to the ‘real world’? At The Child Development Center, we counsel that this is a good start to useful communication, leading to more coherent speech.

Conclusion(s)
Viewed through the lens of a patient who is recovering from ASD with verbal apraxia, scripting (frequently accompanied by echolalia) represents an expected developmental phase.

Taken one step further, communication reduces frustration and inspires confidence. This encourages more contact with the outside world, and maturity. Parents can then believe in their child’s abilities to enjoy a wider variety of experiences.

When scripting is considered in this light, other new strategies, and successful present ones, should be formalized and tested, in order to help the next generation of patients with ASD to achieve their highest potential.

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