Let’s go back to a moment when your child shared a story that was not his/her own and was disconnected from that present situation. Give yourself the luxury of a short daydream. First, focus on your child’s adorable, precious face. Next, fill in the scene that you just imagined. Include your shared words or story and the scripted story your child launched.
Now, let’s examine the reasons why a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) scripts others’ stories.
Many of you who are raising a child with autism have experienced this moment. You attempt to have a connected conversation, or perhaps just a word or a phrase. You feel the moment slip away as your child shares a favorite movie script or a phrase instead of connecting to you. “Feel” is the key word in this scenario. You may “feel” puzzled by the sudden shift in attention, determined by your desire to draw out a connected response and/or frustrated by your unclear plan on how to make this happen.
As a speech and language pathologist with 40 years of experience, my passionate mission is to share some proven tips and strategies that can help make this connection a reality. When I share this message at my office, I usually receive blank stares from parents, as they often have trouble envisioning this. Then, we get to work. Slowly, I can see that faraway look replaced with a look of empowerment, a look that says, “I got this! I have a plan I can use to help create more and more connected conversations!” I will tell you now that that empowered look in parents’ eyes is my greatest professional reward!
Scripting can begin to fade away with a first step toward creating an original thought. The easiest way is by giving your child choices in all situations. In that moment of choice, magic happens! Your child owns that decision. He/she has to connect that choice to a real thought picture in his/her mind. Remember, we think in pictures, not words. These inner thought pictures become our outward expression in the form of words.
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An important message at this juncture is to give your child time to think. We all need time to showcase our best work; your child is no different.
Step 1: Always give choices in all situations. And give your child time to make a choice:
“Do you want grapes or apple slices?”
Step 2: Know that a choice becomes a thought picture, which transforms into the expression of original words. Your child thinks about the two images and anchors one more firmly in his/her mind as the stronger, personal image.
Next, always know that we talk about what we do. This is the essence of all conversations. Your child owns that thought picture in his/her head, so it’s time to interact with it. Move the story forward with a suggestion of what can happen. Here’s another magic moment. Lead in phrases are:
”How about…,” “Maybe…,” “I wonder….” Again, your child needs to choose one of your suggestions, and now, a little interactive movie appears on his/her mental landscape. Always remember your child thinks it, owns it, and says it!
Step 3: Make a suggestion of what to do with the choice that’s been made. Give time to your child to choose a suggestion to move forward:
“How about putting some grapes in a bowl?”
Step 4: Watch your child’s action story unfold. Be the narrator who puts the story into words:
“Wow, you picked grapes and put some in your favorite bowl!”
Over time, by using these four steps/strategies, your child may begin to make more personal choices and interact more with the results of these choices. You will also see your child’s personal narrative begin as a natural consequence of his/her internal thought organization. You will now begin to interact with his/her story with natural comments. The beauty of a real conversation is born!
Now, just continue the process of personal thought by offering an open-ended phrase:
“Let’s see…what you can do next.”
Step 5: Choices, and your child’s interactions with them, will start happening on their own. Keep the story going by sharing, “Let’s see…what you can do next.” This is a great opening line for a meaningful conversation! A significant process takes hold as your child moves through multiple, sequenced actions. A full-length movie happens in the mind, and stories get longer. We all love that!
Step 6: Always know you can be the narrator until your child naturally assumes the role for himself/herself.
Hello real conversations, goodbye scripting! You can systematically move your child toward personal thought and real, verbal sharing using these simple steps. You have a plan, and your child has his/her own story to tell—no need to retell a stored movie conversation from an outside source.
Enjoy the journey, and cherish the conversations. This is the stuff life is made of!
This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions