We LOVE using visuals. Pictures make stories interesting and visual schedules give kids predictability and control. We also use these visuals in the form of scripts to teach conversation. You might be wondering, “But conversation has to be natural and fluid. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if it’s scripted?” Our answer (and the answer of supporting research) is NO!
Research supports the fact that scripts and script fading lead to generative language (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993, 1998; Brown, Krantz, McClannahan, Poulson, 2007). For example, when we want to teach a student to ask others a question like “Do you like movies?”, we would use a script and have them take turns asking the therapist and responding to the therapist. This script can be written text or picture symbols (i.e., Boardmaker). Once we can move them through the steps of reciprocal conversation – asking “Do you like…” and responding back – we would start to fade the script. Even though we try to make it look as natural as possible, it IS scripted during teaching. What will happen is, the more scripts the child learns, the harder it will be to keep them all memorized and they will start to blend together to the point of generating new language. It also provides a strong support so that when they’re out on the playground without the script, at least they can remember and use parts of it in a natural way.
We also like teaching some scripts to fluency. For example, one of our conversation programs is to teach a child to respond to a comment with another comment (as opposed to only responding to questions). So if someone says to them “My favourite food is pizza” they would respond back with “My favourite food is burgers”. Once they can respond consistently and we are able to fade the text cues and scripts, we would set a goal for the number of responses to comments they can generate in 1 minute.
This would never happen in natural conversation so why bother with fluency?
“Behavioral fluency is that combination of accuracy plus speed of responding that enables competent individuals to function efficiently and effectively in their natural environments”. If you ask me what my kids names are, I can answer you in less than 3 seconds – there would be no latent response time (I hope not!). But ask me who I saw at work last Monday – I would need a few minutes to generate that answer. Fluency is another way to describe something that we know well. Counting from 1-10, naming the alphabet – these are skills that we can answer quickly and fluently because we know them well. Anyone can ask me them in any location and my response would be quick and easy. But if I were asked to calculate 14X7 – I would need more time because I don’t know it as well. The more fluent our clients are with the skills we’re teaching them, the more they actually know it and will be able to respond anywhere and with anyone. By teaching a skill to fluency, we’re charging their battery pack with power so that they’re comfortable enough with the skill that it transfers and generalizes.
This is exactly what we want with conversation. We want our clients to have enough “charge” in their conversation battery pack so that they have what to draw on when they need it. No two social situations are alike so no matter how “naturalistic” our teaching can look, the next social encounter will be different. We can’t prepare them for the exact social situation they’ll be in, but we can arm them with the tools for them to use when in those situations. Out in the schoolyard, they’ll hear some of the language that we’ve been practicing through scripts and be able to join the conversation in their own way!