How to stop autistic children from scripting

Scripting in autism can be defined variously but generally refers to the ability to repeat phrases or single words many times over.  The words and phrases are often copied but can also be self generated.  Scripting is generally considered to be an impairment that requires intervention and is usually paired with the word ‘fading.’  Scripting and echolalia often come hand in hand which is why so many of the phrases are easily recognizable as they’re delivered with accurate mimicry.  A three year old who scripts Boris Karloff may be the source of amusement, but with an older child, public opinion is less forgiving.

Scripting serves many different functions for a child; it can be calming and self-organizing, a bit like white noise.  Frequently the child is not aware that he or she is scripting, which makes it far more difficult to stop or reduce the behavior.

Scripting is generally deemed to be socially unacceptable, which is why it receives so much attention, disproportionately so in my opinion.  If someone hums a tune, or whistles quietly in public, no-one is likely to turn a hair, but most of us will notice someone who appears to talk to themselves – a big red flag.  If that person repeats the same word or phrase, you can more or less guarantee that everyone’s attention is arrested.  I would hope that it is this aspect that concerns most people, how to let the autistic person continue with their daily doings, without being gawped at?  I suspect that in another decade, given the arrival of the blue tooth, such behavior will become less and less noticeable.

The negative elements of scripting are well documented elsewhere, as are the many techniques to help fade this behavior, so would prefer to posit an alternative perspective.  Although scripting can be irritating for the audience, or parent in my particular case, it does have a number of positive elements that don’t receive much attention.

If a child is non-verbal or has a significant speech delay, repeating the same word of phrase is basically practice.  It may sound like a scratch on a record, but all those repeats add up.  It may not be that practice makes perfect, but it certainly helps articulation.  They also function as a prompt; if you can recall the starting phrase like: ‘once upon a time,’  ‘this guy walked into the room,’ ‘there was an Irishman, an Englishman and a Welshman,’ – then the rest of the story can flow.

The scripts around here are many and various, they change over time and often become longer and more complicated.

[please note that ‘bing, bing, bing,’ refers to BBC America where swear words and other rude references are bleaped]

***

Following the triennial I.E.P. certain pertinent facts grab my attention. Forget the academics, it’s those all elusive social skills that need nailing.  Mastery is the difference between potential budding relationships and isolation – if not mastery, at least a move in the right direction. We collude and conspire for some considerable period thereafter, before the latest campaign evolves.  Although he often thinks kindly thoughts, he rarely if ever voices them, aloud.  He’s a taciturn kind of a guy.  At other times, he volunteers information that some people would prefer not to hear, because he’s a truthful kind of a guy.  Generally he’s on the periphery rather than in the center of the fray.

We adopt a two-pronged approach after lengthy discussions on tactics – rewards for speaking up in a positive manner and even greater rewards for refraining from saying negative things out loud.  We practice modeling at home, all those everyday situations, examples, clues about what is expected and when.

On day one we experience three incidents where thought is put into action.  He avoids telling another child how feeble and inferior her artistic creation turned out.  He catches a boy as he trips to prevent the fall.  He offers voluntary praise to a youngster for his sterling academic efforts.

It’s a veritable triumph.  This kind of thing usually takes weeks, months, forever, a lifetime before we ever see anything. Three deeds equate to 3 M&M’s, as positive bribery is reinforcing initially.

The following day we repeat the exercise, this time at the dinner table where we are all gathered to hear of his exploits.  He makes a start, after a little coaxing.

“Well I can fink of one thing that I am doing.”

“Wonderful!  Tell us more!”

“There was this guy.”

“What was his name?” interjects his father.

“Dunno but he was a medium sized kind of a kid.”

He never knows anyone’s name, grade or class, “he had this rock.”

“A rock!  Oh no.  What did he do?”

“He was, he was, he was gonna hit this small sized kid on the bing!”

“On the bing?  It’s o.k., you can say the rude word.”

“On the butt!”

“And what did you do?”

“I told him,  ‘listen up buddy, don’t you hit him on the bing, bing, bing or I’ll go and tell the yard duty lady.’”  He uses his most jocular tone, a good tactic when dealing with unknown rock thugs.  So much of it is scripts, but it gives him flow and rhythm and confidence.

“And what did he say?”

“He jus said ‘duh’ and he hit hisself on the forehead.”  He demonstrates the gesture, just in case any of us were in any doubt.

To everyone’s surprise, he recounts ten additional incidents of his intervening heroism, tales of daring do, most involving rocks, with one exception, one involving ropes.

“So this medium sized guy in a grey sweater, he has these lil kids tied up to a pole at recess.”

His credibility begins to wane,

“What did he tie them up with?”

“Rope.”

“Rope?  Where would you get rope at school?”  His sister leaps to his defense, “jump ropes mom, he’s telling the truth, you can tie people to trees with the jump ropes.”  I do not find this fact particularly helpful, but the detail of the ‘grey sweater’ gives weight to the guise of truth.

“And what did you do?”

“I said to this guy…. ‘hey buddy, listen up……untie those kids or I’m gonna have to report yah to the Principal.’”

“You seem to have turned into a superhero overnight dear.”

“Yeah.”

“And did you tell the Principal?”

“No, I ain’t no tattle tail.”

“!”

“And there’s another one.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah, this big guy was peeking at the girls’ restroom.”

“Peeking?”

He demonstrates the act of peeking, such that we can be in no doubt as to his meaning.

“Really.  And what did you do?”

“I said to him I said, ‘listen up buddy, don’t you go being all bing, bing, bing.’”

“Did you use a rude word?”

“No I jus wanted him to know about the rudeness.”

“!”

“And there’s another one.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah, this guy called me a ‘bing, bing, bing.’”

“What word did he use?”

“Dickhead.”

“!”

“Yeah.”

“And what did you do?”

“I said ‘yeah, that’s right, I’m a bing, bing, bing.’”

“You used the rude word?”

“No, I used the ‘bing, bing, bing.’”

“!”

I begin to feel dizzy with the speed of his delivery – conversations of this type are more rare than hen’s teeth.  So animated, so jovial, centre stage and frolicking in the limelight – cheeky little monkey.  This is positively unprecedented.

“And dis is the last one.”

“Last one?”

“Yeah, it was recess and this medium sized kid had a rock and he was gonna throw it at the Principal.”

“The Principal?”  The skeptics amongst us exchange glances – either he’s forgotten the boy that cried wolf or he’s had a personality transplant without our knowledge – which is more unlikely?

“Yeah.”

“And what did you do?”

“I stood in front of him with my body and went ‘hey dude, get a load of this!’ and then I made my funny face.”

“And what did he do?”

“He walked away.”

“Did anybody else see this?”

“Sure there was loads of kids – it was recess.”

“Savior of the Principal!  Did the Principal see you do this?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say anything to you……for saving her?”

“Yes.  She gave me two gold cards to go into the raffle for the ‘Student in the Spotlight’ this month.”

“Do you have the gold cards?”

“No she put em in the raffle.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“What a truly spectacular day you’ve had.  That’s earned you 12 M & M’s.”

“Tomorrow I’m gonna get a whole packet I fink.”

“We shall all enjoy watching you earn them, since you’ll be home, because it will be Saturday.”

“It’s Saturday tomorrow?  No School?”

“That’s right, you’ll have to be a superhero at home.  Won’t that be fun.”

“You ….you…..you…. got any spare rocks around this joint?”

This may come across as a fairly standard family conversation, nothing out of the ordinary, how would I know, I have no point of comparison?  But around here, it’s heart stomping.

Why would I share this, now that they’re so much older?  Isn’t it too private?  Perhaps, maybe it is.  All I know is the numbers of google searches that bring people to my site.  The search is a variation on a theme – ‘how to stop autistic kids from scripting’ – it might be an idea to re-think that one – it’s not all negative, it can be a springboard.

So….was it true or was it false?  I don’t know and I actually don’t care.  Six years ago I would never have dreamed of such a conversation.  What if he is prone to a little exaggeration?  It’s all in the mind afterall.  What really is the difference between a rock, a pebble and a wee nubby chip of gravel anyway!  It’s all about scale or do I mean perspective?

p.s. I came across this site called “love to know” – autism.  They have an empathy quiz.  It’s about half way down on the “left margin.” I’m not suggesting you take it yourself because as a seasoned Cosmopolitan quiz taker myself [several life times ago,] I think we all know how to fudge the answers to get the right result.  That said, it may just be that there’s someone new in your life who is really trying to make an effort to get to know your children and family, so this would be a gentle introduction in 10 quick questions without the intimidation.  For me, as a parent of autistic children, I feel I have a duty to tread gently when it comes to the mainstream.  It’s easy to forget how different our world is from other people’s.  We’re unlikely to win over public opinion with a battering ram – our greatest asset is our children themselves, who they are, as individuals.


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Some Mother’s do ave em

It was one of those ‘time stood still moments.’ Perhaps fifty adults and maybe 30 children, all assembled on the day of my daughter’s wedding. Everything had been prepared in advance and I’d practiced my brief speech, in my formal role as ‘mother of the bride.’ Because I am an anal retentive type, I had already taken account of every possible eventuality, everything except that one.

After a few words to the adults, it was time to include the children, as speeches are especially boring for youngsters. So I called them, all the children. Invited them to join their parents for a few seconds, and of course they all did so, little obedient lambs, except one, the black sheep of the family. I had him in my sites, clearly. I could see him as he froze in response to my call, caught in the act, deer in the headlights, an immobile statue of exaggeration. No one else on the planet could hold that pose, a caricature of startled innocence. It wasn’t disobedience; but bewilderment, pure and complicated. “Parent!” I repeated as he blinked wide-eyed. His arm bent stiffly at the elbow to point to his own chest, in the universal gesture of ‘are you talking to me?’

“Yes! Where are your parents?” I yelled as my arms beckoned, huge flappy waves as everyone waited in the blistering 90 degree heat. I stood next to his father on the single step, waiting. I watched him percolate as he searched around to retrieve the lost word – what was that word again? ‘Parent’?

I saw when it stuck him, a little sharp dart of recall, a small convulsion of conviction that sparked him into movement as he skittered over to my side, a cheesy grin of recognition because progenitor elastic had snapped him back.

Next time I’ll prepare more carefully, save myself a lot of bother – one little rustle of the packet from 50 miles away will set him running – the power of Goldfish crackers still reigns supreme.

Meanwhile…….tis the season for…..? Something or other. We’re pretty much buried in Thanksgiving for now, shortly to be followed by a whole slew of birthdays, “Nonna’s” arrival before we bump into the Holiday season. That said, despite all the busyness it maybe worthwhile to pause amid the fray and spare a thought for those “abroad” Maybe you’re in need of some “festive cards” especially if your own children eschew such materials as glitter, glue and paper. I’ll make no bones about it, I plan to pass them off as our own – or maybe not. Even if you’re fully supplied with cards, it might be that you can spare a little something as a donation, a freebie, with no pay-off? I hear that there are some people like that, who give freely without any desire for a quid quo pro, although I we wouldn’t know anything about that around here. If you think that might be something that tweaks your funny bone, then nip along and say “hi de ho” to “Cordelia,” and her chums.


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Hole in one

I watch him hit Bukugan balls across the kitchen floor with a plastic light saber with quite an alarming degree of accuracy.
“How many balls are there in bill birds?”
“I have no idea. Is this one of your new jokes luvvy?”
“No. I’m askin. How many balls are there in bill birds?”
“I don’t think I know what a bill bird is?”
“Bill birds is dah English game which is being called Pool properly.”
“Ah! You mean billiards!”
“O.k.”
“Super. Glad we sorted that one out then.”
“So?”
“So what?”
“How many balls is there?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t know, I’m not really very sporty.”
“Sporty?”
“Yes, Billiards is an Olympic sport…..isn’t it? I was never any good at Trivial Pursuits.”
“S’not trivial, its importint!”
“!”
“Itsa game not a sport.”
“Oh, well you’re the American so you would probably know best.”
“So how many?”
“Like I said, I don’t know……I can look it up if you like?”
“No, jus look in your head.”
“Pardon?”
“Can’t you see it?”
“Where?”
“In yur head. I can see it in my head.”
“Oh, like in my mind’s eye………no I still can’t see it. Can you?”
“Of course.”
“How many then?”
“I can be seeing 15 in dah triangle thingy.”
“Can you really?”
“Yes. Wot do you see?”
“A headache.”


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Proceed with caution

One of my many duties as Head Cook and Chief bottle washer of this joint is to tackle the accumulation of miscellaneous stains that have recently appeared around the premises. Although we are in the midst of a heavily armed, hand-washing campaign, nevertheless I find I have been remiss in my vigilance.

Whilst I can think of many other things that I should prefer to do, there comes a time when the graffiti can no longer be ignored. Armed with my trusty scrubber, soap and several gallons of elbow grease, I make a start.

The first one is an ominous brown smear but it passes the sniff test, so I know that is benign, Belgium Chocolate pudding I’ll be bound. As I scrub I hear the sweetly melodic strains of my youngest son’s latest ditty, “threedy boogie college,” to a familiar tune, with his usual robotic dance steps. I move swiftly on to the next one, marker that is neither magic nor washable. “Threedy boogie college,” wafts down the stairs, a chorus of cherubic artistic expression. Bless his little cotton socks.

As the walls become ever more patchy because this is an ongoing process, I notice that the paintwork is wearing thin. I pause to consider whether it might be more expedient to re-paint the entire interior of the house but decide against it on the grounds that a few more years will probably pass before any such transformation is possible. “Threedy boogie college.” How much better to wait a wee while so that I may bask in the delights of innocent childhood. I can almost look forward to my dotage, armed with a paint brush, ladder and a walking frame for support. It is whilst I daydream of the future that my daughter saunters across, “whatya doing Mom?”

“Cleaning.”

“Ya missed a bit.”

“Did I? Where?”

“Jus there.”

I peer and sniff, “what do you suppose that is?”

“He says it’s art.”

“Art?”

“Yeah, didncha hear him singin it? It’s a 3-D booger collage.”

“!”

“Ask him yourself. You should ask him about his gallery.”

“Gallery?”

“Yeah, I said he should call it a gallery and charge admission.”

“Admission?”

“Yeah, gallery’s opening tonight, right around bed time.”

“Bedtime?”

“Yeah! Top bunk bed, pillow end.”

“!”

Who was the Great Master who cut off his own ear? I’ll bet his mum did it.


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Hands free hair washing

The hygiene of my children is very much a hands on affair.

Having overcome the seasonal changes from baths in the winter, to showers in the summer and then back again, I can honestly say that the painful transition period has shortened considerably over the last decade, from months to a mere few weeks, testimonial to the fact that they continue to grow.

I’m uncertain if I’m there in the bathroom to prevent escape, provide entertainment or minimize carnage, but in any event I consider that I could probably be using my time in a more constructive manner, elsewhere.

That said it comes to my attention late in the day, that the all elusive ‘independence’ factor is adrift. It would appear that originally I was present at bath-time to prevent babies from drowning, ten years later I’m still there, with much physically larger off spring, with considerably greater surface area of skin. I notice that my boy children are no longer babies, because I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, despite the all too visible evidence to the contrary, backed up by the dated growth marks on the grimy kitchen door frame.

In a sudden flash of genius I realize that pretty soon, one way or another, I may be well out of my depth, and deep in the mire of puberty. I’m told that it happens to us all, but I’m no scientist. I use my exceptionally large memory bank to recall ‘what is the correct age?’ When should they be able to bathe themselves? Just in the nick of time I remember that I threw out all the useless books about averages, developmental milestones and what to expects, at about the same time as I realized that my particular family had deviated from the norm.

I e-mail trusted pals and chums who universally confirm the magic age of 7. Whilst I am tempted to sulk, instead I return to the base line, other parents with similarly off-beat children. We collude and conclude that with all other things being equal, a parent should, in an ideal world, aim for independence immediately prior to the arrival of the first spot of acne, just to be on the safe side. Armed with this nugget of information but without a crystal ball, I calculate that I should have begun this process approximately eighteen months, 3 days and 45 minutes ago.

I decide, unilaterally, without consultation to the parties herein concerned, that they will learn to wash their own hair, if not by themselves, at least with less maternal physical input, eventually.

As usual, I find I fail to think through the plan of action thoroughly, merely launch myself feet first into another campaign.

The first thing I forget about is the need for ear-plugs. My son is quite reasonably outraged at my unreasonableness, withdrawal of services without warning or preamble. His facial expression is a study in contempt; what is the point of having a parent if the parent fails to perform as a parent should? It’s a tempting argument, one I have been susceptible to for longer than would be strictly necessary for anyone else with one wit of common sense.

But we persevere.

As we all know, hair washing is a multi step sequence, each one of which is every bit as vile as any of the other bits.

It’s a challenge.

I remember that the tools that we most commonly refer to as hands, are located at the ends of their arms. I also remember that when hands are expected to function in a new and uncertain manner, as often as not, the arms turn to spaghetti. I have no choice but to opt for the ‘hand over hand’ model of progress. It feels like back to square one and I wonder, not for the first time, what exactly have I being doing with my time all these years?

With my hand over his I swiftly slap a dollop of shampoo on the apex of his skull, with a little too much vigour, more of a smack than a plop and it’s pretty much down hill after that.

His brother looks on, or rather scowls with contempt as he plots and observes. It’s written all over his face, how to avoid the same fate as his little brother?

“Mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“Do you wash dad?”
“Er……well……..I…..um….not usually but I did wash him when he broke his leg a few years back.”
“Oh.”
“People learn to wash themselves, with practice, in time.”
“I’m finkin………. about time.”
“Ah. What about time?”
“What is betterer I’m thinkin?”
“What is better than what?”
“Gettin a wife or breakin yur leg?”
“!”

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