Verbal Scripting

Does your child repeat phrases or even whole movies, commercials or books?

Verbal scripting can be defined as repeating a word or phrase multiple times. Verbal scripting goes hand in hand with echolalia. Some children repeat TV shows, commercials, movies, books, sounds, or phrases they have heard someone else say.

Some children interact with other people using “scripts” appropriately while other children have no interaction while scripting.

Does your child spend 50% or even 80% of their day scripting?

Verbal scripting is a barrier for children. Verbal scripting interferes with learning as well as social interaction.

Verbal scripting is generally socially unacceptable.

I have had countless parent and teacher interviews where verbal scripting is never mentioned. When I mention that their child/student is engaging in verbal scripting 75% of their day, the response I get is this, “Oh, they have always done that.” Verbal scripting may not seem like a problem in the home or in a self-contained classroom however it is a problem at the playground, in church, at the store, or in a general education classroom.

Children can learn not to engage in verbal scripting.

The first step is to figure out if the child knows when he/she is engaging in verbal scripting. Children must become aware of their own behavior.

Once children know when they are engaging in verbal scripting, they should be taught that it is not appropriate.

Words are used for communication. Words have meaning.

Children should be taught that words have meaning. A replacement behavior should then be taught, conversation. Children should learn that when they want to talk, they should talk to another person.

Positive reinforcement should be given in the absence of the inappropriate behavior.

Gaining Consistency

Finally Words

Is your child starting to request items and activities using words? Does he/she say the word 1 time and then point or use sign language the next time? Does your child talk for 1 person and use physical gesturing for the next person to gain access to an item or activity?

Gaining Consistency

It is so exciting when a child goes from pointing, using sign language, gesturing, or using the picture exchange communication system to using words expressively. Many people get frustrated with inconsistency in expressive language and not knowing how to get their child to the next level in communication. It is common for children who just start learning to use their words expressively when requesting items to fall back on their previous form of communication.
As a parent, therapist, care taker, or educator you must first determine what the expectation is for the child. The expectation may vary across words and activities.

Expectation = Consistency
How do you determine the expectation?

When a child says a word and receives that item or activity in response to the word, you have just discovered the expectation. Once the child is able to say a word for the item, the expectation moves from a previous form of communication to an expressive request. The child should now only receive positive reinforcement, the item/activity, when he/she expressively requests for the item/activity. The child should no longer get the item/activity with a gesture, sign language, or using the picture exchange communication system. Each item/activity that the child requests may need to be taught separately and therefore the expectation will vary across items/activities. For example, if a child learns to request bubbles by saying “bubbles,” he/she may still be using sign language to request other activities such as tickles. Once the child says “tickles,” that is when you move the expectation from sign language to the expressive word. When you establish that the child’s expectation for particular items/activities is expressive language, the child will stop doing the other forms of communication because he/she will no longer receive positive reinforcement, the item, for the other modes of communication.

Everyone that works with the child must know the expectation for consistency to take place.

Communication must take place between everyone that works and plays with the child to ensure consistency. If the expectation for a child is expressive language, for example to ask for help, and once in a while someone grants a picture exchange to ask for help, the child will continue to rely on using pictures when asking for help. Intermittent reinforcement, a behavior that gets reinforced sometimes, will maintain the behavior. Intermittent reinforcement can also create frustration for the child. Establish the expectation with everyone involved in the child’s daily life to minimize frustration and increase consistency.

It is always easier to point than to talk. Hold the expectation high.



Does your child repeat everything you say?

Echolalia is common among children with autism and other developmental delays. We often teach children to talk by having them imitate what we say, verbal imitation. A common problem found in this method is that children don’t discriminate when to imitate and when not to imitate. Here are a few tips on how to prevent this problem and how to get rid of inappropriate imitation.

  • When teaching a child to imitate what you say, use the instruction, “Say + word.” “Say” becomes the instruction for imitate. This will help the child know when to imitate. If they don’t hear, “Say” then they know not to imitate.

  • Gesture to the person whose turn it is to speak. This indicates who is the speaker and who is the listener. You may also use picture cards that represent speaker and listener.

  • Make sure you are only providing positive reinforcement for appropriate responses. For example, if an adult says to a child, “Do you want a cookie” and the child repeats, “Do you want a cookie.” That is an inappropriate response and the adult should not provide the child with a cookie, which is a positive reinforcer. The adult should then repeat the question and provide a model of the correct response, “Say, yes.” The child should get the cookie after he/she gives the correct response.

Writing effective IEP goals and objectives.

IEP PowerPoint

Why does my child do the things they do?

Why does my child do the things they do?

That is the question you should ask yourself every time your child does a behavior that you want to increase or decrease.

Children do things for a reason.

Everything that a person does is a behavior. Behavior has a function, meaning we do things to get a particular response or consequence.

In order to change a behavior, you must first know why the child is displaying the behavior. There are 4 main reasons children behave the way they do:

  • To gain attention from others or to gain access to an item or activity
  • To escape an undesired item, activity, or person
  • Self-stimulation, which is a behavior that provides automatic reinforcement
  • To communicate, especially children with limited communication skills

Once you determine the function of the behavior, teach the child a more appropriate way to get the same response. This is also known as teaching a replacement behavior. Provide positive reinforcement every time the appropriate behavior is displayed.

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