Friday, December 13, 2013

Using Scripts to Encourage Language and Interaction

Hi everyone!  It's Chris from Autism Classroom News. Working with kids with autism, I am always looking for ways to increase their independence in social interactions and also working on ways to increase their language use.  Getting even some of our higher functioning students to use sentences in situations where they could use one word, as well as increasing how they use their language, is difficult.  Many of the students respond to prompts but they also become dependent on them.  So for instance, I can tell them what to say, but they often just repeat it and they don't become more independent.  They also sometimes repeat the prompt.  So if I say, "Say hi to Devon" often the student with autism echoes that.  So instead of saying, "Hi Devon," he says, "Say hi to Devon." Fading out those extra elements becomes difficult.   In addition, if we are working on social interaction with a peer, having an adult involved feeding lines to the student really interferes with the interaction.  So I thought I would share some strategies today about how to encourage language and independent interaction in less intrusive ways that foster independence.

One of the first issues to think about is how you want to expand the student's language.  Research has indicated that if your student is nonverbal, starting with teaching requesting for desired items is the most effective.  It has the most power in that it is highly reinforcing for the student.  After those first one-word requests, you can expand by the number of words that the student uses, often by adding sentence starters like, "I want___."  However, once they begin to get "I want ___" then it makes sense to start thinking about expanding some of the functions of their language use.  One way is to start working on labeling items and commenting on what they have or what they need.  Simple sentence starters, similar to those you would use in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are a good place to start. (Please note that PECS is the process of teaching a functional communication system for students and is not the name of the actual pictures used.  Those are called picture-symbols or pic-syms).

 In the picture to the left, you can see a sentence strip a student would use to request help and another one where he or she puts a visual at the end of what he sees and then can read the strip.  In the one below you can see one where he says, "Can I have ___?" as another form of requesting.  The point of the sentence strip is for the student to be able to read the pictures (use them as a cue) to independently ask for help or tell you what they see. Games of I-Spy are great for teaching the I see ___ phrase.  This moves the student into a new function of commenting--or talking for more conversational reasons.

One of the things that I like about these sentence strips is that you can have the student use visuals on the fly to make different sentences so you can capture his or her motivation.  It is also easy to fade the sentence strip out by dropping more and more of the visuals out from the end.  So in the "Can I have" strip, you could fade it back to "Can I ______" and the student has to complete more of the sentence on his own.

For students who can read, it's even easier to make the scripts because you can write them out as you need them.  You can easily use a dry erase board or a laminated piece of paper with a dry erase marker to write out the cue he or she needs.  You can also use post-it notes or any piece of paper to give the student a cue.  This makes it much easier than when you have to find the right picture for those students who can't read and makes it a more efficient process.  And again, it's easy to drop the words off the end of the sentence to increase his independence.  The picture below actually used popsicle sticks that we either wrote on the fly or had ready as needed depending on the situation.  They became a good tool for conversation for the student as well. He would draw a popsicle stick out of a cup and make a comment or ask a question based on which one he drew using the script.  Then a peer could respond and ask him a question or make a comment that he had to respond to.  This allowed the interaction to be free of an adult reminding him of what to say.

You can use scripts of whole recitations, like the Pledge of Allegiance that is in the title picture at the top of this post with picture cues as a way to increase participation in classroom activities.  You can also use scripts like the one below for students to interact on the playground.  You can download the grid and materials for the playground chart below.  Essentially the student chooses a friend's picture and puts it on the left and then chooses an activity.  He then uses the script to go up to the friend, and say, "Chelsea, let's go jump rope."  When he done jumping rope, he moves to the next one.  He can use this chart independently to get kids to interact with him on the playground and there is a motivator at the end of it because the social interaction and communication is probably the hardest work he does all day.  You can download this chart below for free in my TPT store here.

You can also integrate scripts into schedules so that the steps of an activity include saying good morning to a peer or asking the front office staff a question when completing a task analysis of delivering a message.  

Finally, one of the newest ways that you can use scripts for kids who can read is to use texting.  If you are working in a system where the student has access to a device like a tablet or a smartphone, either through your classroom equipment or through a bring your own device program, texting is the easiest way to give social cues and scripts to students without having to interfere with the interaction by adding an adult to give him reminders. It also allows you to change the script based on the interaction of the other people involved.  For instance, you might plan that a student would ask about what movie another kid saw this weekend only to find that the other kid just went ahead and told him.  A static script means that the kid with autism (or other social issues, because other kids benefit from this as well) probably will ask the question anyway and it won't make any sense.  However, if you are using texting, you can change the question you suggest to him in the text after you hear what the other kid says....but be across the room and not in the middle of the interaction.  You can even leave blanks for the student to fill in like the one at the end of the message series below.

Regardless of the function of the language or the type of script you use, you will need to teach your student how to look at the script, read it to himself, and then look up to talk to the peer or adult.  This needs to be practiced repeatedly so that the student gets good at it and then he or she can use it on his own. This is true for texting as well, but it looks pretty age-appropriate for most of our students to look at their phone in a conversation while talking to a peer, so it doesn't stand out as much as if he was looking at a notebook or a piece of paper.

And finally, I think it's important to remember that we all use scripts at some point or another.
I ran across the cocktail napkin above and had to have it!   Unobtrusive and easy to use!

So, how do you increase and encourage language with your students?  Please share in the comments. You never know what you tried that might be helpful to someone you have never met!

Until next time,
Autism Classroom News

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