A script is a plan or sequence of behaviors to accomplish a goal within a social interaction. We all use scripts every day, usually without even realizing it. For instance, imagine you are picking up morning bagel on your way to work. Chances are you say something similar to the cashier each time, and they probably respond to you in a similar way as well. Typically, you know exactly what to expect, and when something happens that’s unexpected, it may be confusing and even cause you to respond in an unusual or embarrassing way!
For people with a range of language deficits, acting out useful scripts ahead of time, such as doctor visits, grocery shopping, or eating in a restaurant, can better prepare them for these events and provide valuable opportunities to enhance multiple aspects of social communication simultaneously.
Children and adolescents with language deficits, including developmental language disorder, autism spectrum disorder, social pragmatic communication disorder, and intellectual disability, often struggle because they lack the ability to navigate common social activities such as riding the bus or following classroom routines.
Enacting and practicing scripts can help individuals integrate the linguistic, conversational, and emotional knowledge needed to accomplish important social activities ranging from hanging up one’s coat in the classroom to inviting someone on a date.
Making the Most of Scripts
Enacting scripts provides a safe and motivating context in which to practice and reflect on a variety of new behaviors. Basic steps include creating a useful script, defining and assigning roles, teaching the script, and encouraging flexibility and innovation.
Step 1: Creating a Script
It is helpful to choose a script for familiar or highly motivating activities. For example, a script for a daily activity such as school snack time might be appropriate for a young child, while an adolescent may be interested in asking a friend to go to a movie. Identify specific intervention targets, including aspects of language processing (vocabulary and structure), pragmatics, and social and emotional learning.
Step 2: Defining and Assigning Roles
Describe and assign necessary roles to be played by various individuals within each scripted activity. It is important to rotate roles to encourage flexibility.
Step 3: Teach the Script
Embed specific intervention targets within the script, and then employ direct instruction and modeling to teach the various verbal and nonverbal behaviors associated with each role.
Step 4: Encourage Flexibility
Encourage individuals to change and elaborate on scripts, creating new events and roles as they choose.
Scripting in Action
In the following video, T., a five-year-old boy with developmental language disorder, enacts a script with his clinician, Rob. In the first segment, Rob acts as a doctor, recording T.’s medical symptoms. In the second segment, T. acts as the doctor and Rob is the patient.
T.’s social communication intervention targets include:
- Language processing—question formation, copular verb forms, vocabulary (locatives, body parts, spatial terms, and quantifiers)
- Pragmatics—responding to requests, asking for information
- Social and Emotional Learning—emotional sharing
Within this doctor script, Rob models the targeted behaviors and engages T.’s participation. Note that Rob does not correct T.’s grammatical form at this point. Instead, he models the correct forms. This is done to respect T.’s contribution and preserve the authenticity of the interaction.
Want to learn more about how to incorporate scripting into your work with kids? Check out the MedBridge course, “Social Communication: Intervention for Children.”
- Brinton, B., & Fujiki, M. (2017) The power of stories: facilitating social communication in children with limited language abilities. School Psychology International, 38(5): 523–540.
- Brinton, B., & Fujiki, M. (2019). Facilitating social communication in children with developmental language disorders: bibliotherapeutic approach. SIG 16 Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 4(3): 532–537.