2002 Conference Proceedings

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Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite, Ed.D., CCC-SLP
Special Communications, 916 West Castillo Drive, Litchfield Park, AZ 85340

Linda J. Burkhart
6201 Candle Ct. Eldersburg, MD 21784


Social Scripts are interactions such as joke-telling, sharing life stories and general conversations. They help persons using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) move beyond wants and needs to using 'real' communication for conversational purposes. They support students in learning to claim, start, and maintain turns in a conversation.


Research compiled by Arlene Kraat in 1985 indicated a number of problem areas in the growing area of AAC. These have been verified by other researchers and authors:
* Communication displays / devices rarely used
* AAC users typically respondents, not initiators (Culp, 1982; Harris, 1982; Light, et al, 1985)
* Limited range of functions available to AAC users
* Interaction patterns that focus on closed-answer questions (What do you want?) and "testing" (What's this?)
* Expectations for AAC users are minimal
* Conversational partners control interactions, with turn taking highly unequal (Farrier et al, 1985; Light et al., 1985)
* Peer interaction is minimal

Culp & Carlisle (1988) suggested that many factors can contribute to the difficulty shown by augmented communicators in initiating and maintaining topics. She suggested the following: vocabulary constraints, rate and timing of message delivery, physical effort required, limited environmental experiences, and partner behaviors (e.g., failure to pause).

Well, it's the new millennium . . . and most of those problems are still with us. We must use a variety of strategies to ensure that augmented communicators - even those with limited access skills, can achieve interactions that are:
            varied, to maintain interest
                 ongoing, with multiple turns
                    w/ a range of partners, including peers
                        a way to model a range of pragmatics
                            low maintenance (do them "on the fly")

One strategy to address these needs is to develop age-appropriate, motivating Social Scripts that may be easily accessed, even by beginning communicators. These social scripts should fulfill several areas of the agendas or social purposes described by Janice Light (1988).


At present, we are identifying three levels of social scripts. These levels may be used by a range of AAC users, and are not strictly tied to a user's accessing, language, or cognitive skills.

Co-Planned Sequenced Scripts: These are a sequence of pre-programmed 'turns' constructed by partner or co-constructed by partner & user. Goals include practice accessing, increased motivation, and a 'feel' for conversation.

Structured with Choice Scripts: These scripts also use pre-programmed language. However, the sequence is chosen by the AAC user. They typically include multiple options (e.g., several ways to initiate, maintain conversation). Goals include maximum support for conversation, with all needed conversation parts at provided at one time.

Generative Scripts: With generative scripts, the user has a wide range of options to choose from. Quick talk options are generally included. Generative systems typically include the alphabet and/or dictionary pages. Goals include engaging in real conversation and having equal or near-equal communication turns.

This workshop focuses primarily on Co-Planned Sequenced Scripts. At the end of the sessions, ideas will be provided for moving AAC users to levels that require more cognitive engagement.


Social scripts can support users with a range of physical, language, and cognitive challenges.

Individuals with Poor Access Skills: Often, individuals with poor access skills are limited in their social interactions, as they are unable or extremely slow to use devices to take conversational turns. Using sequenced social scripts with easily accessed devices can give these students a 'feel' for the give and take of conversational turn taking.

Individuals with Limited Language Skills: The umbrella term "limited language skills" can cover a range of issues. As used here, it specifically refers to individuals whose receptive language is greater than their expressive language. This may be due to a number of factors, including access to limited vocabulary. Limited vocabulary, in turn, may have many causes, from limited experiences and opportunities to restricted vocabulary due to the lack of generative language and the difficulty storing (or remembering the location of) all needed vocabulary.

Individuals with Cognitive Delay: To some, use of co-planned sequenced social scripts may seem questionable for students with cognitive delay, as that may create a receptive - expressive mismatch (what the student is saying is at a higher cognitive level than their receptive level). We have found that this is not as great a concern as we initially thought, for two reasons: 1) Often, when given an opportunity to communicate for 'real' purposes, in socially engaging ways, we find that students have higher receptive language levels than previously guessed;
2) Motivation can cause individuals to 'turn on' to communication, where basic wants and needs (eat, drink, toilet!) were unsuccessful.


For ease of choosing scripts, these categories might be helpful. You may choose different categories, but here is a starter set:
Action Scripts: These scripts are especially appropriate for beginners, who are cognitively or chronologically young. They engage the partner in action, and the student receives tangible results from communicative attempts. Samples are: book reading, back rub, and putting on lotion.

Class Participation Scripts: Students spend much of their day engaged in class activities that may offer limited opportunities for interactive communication. These scripts offer an opportunity to maximize classroom activities such as studying for a test or engaging in a cooperative learning activity. Younger students might use scripts to be song leader, story leader, or transition leader.

Conversation Scripts: Conversation scripts engage partners in interactive conversation, and can include all of the social agendas listed below. For example, pranks can show humor, Before the Ball Game develops a sense of belonging, and This Weekend promotes information transfer.


Social Closeness

1) Sense of Belonging: These include scripts about trivia, gossip, and general "hanging out":
a) Talking about common interests (sports, collections such as Pokemon)
b) Scripts that are similar to those used by same-age peers such as "Who's Cute?" or "What Are You Wearing Tomorrow?"

2) Aspects of Personality: Aspects of personality to be highlighted include humor, teasing flirting, whining, etc. Potential Scripts are:
a) Those that show humor, such as joke scripts or humorous poems
b) Those that show exasperation, such as "Can I Come Out Now" (a follow-up to the parent's "Go To Your Room" script)
c) "Pranks" can also be included in this category, such as "fake vomit" or switch activated "fart machines

3) Change Perceptions:
All of the social scripts fall into this category, as they help communication partners recognize that AAC users can initiate, claim turns, and maintain a topic of joint interest

Information Transfer

1) Social scripts such as "Guess What Happened!" can present new information, while also including many of the features of the social closeness agendas
2) Content-Area Scripts can also support information transfer, with the student serving to share information for the teacher. Samples are:
a) Spelling Test (remember to introduce with and intersperse with social language)
b) Directions (for an art project, science experiment, etc.) should also include features such as: attention-grabbers (Today we're going to . .. .) and maintainers (are you ready?)


A Social Script Form is available to support development of scripts (Musselwhite & Burkhart, 2001). Social script
development should be a collaborative effort of the following parties:
- AAC user
- peers
- family members
- facilitator (parent / teacher / therapists / parapro)

Factors to Consider: (See Script Builder Form) Does the script:
* start with a greeting, "excuse me", or other hook to get the partner's attention?
* include a range of communicative functions (positive comment, negative comment, teasing, questioning, directing, etc.)?
* provide for multiple turns (e.g., topic maintainers such as "tell me more" or "Wanda hear the rest")
* ensure that the user doesn't get "backed into a corner", such that an unexpected response stops the exchange?
* Use "real-kid language" appropriate for the student's age and setting?
* Use "person-matched language" appropriate to the personality of the individual?


It will be helpful if one person takes on the role of Communication Partner, while another assumes the role of Prompter. The Partner Role involves: communicating as naturally as possible; pausing where necessary; NOT giving any prompts. The Prompter Role requires: prompting only when absolutely necessary; prompting as unobtrusively as possible (gesturing to the device, flashlight cueing a response), and fading prompting as the routine is learned.


Co-planned sequenced social scripts offer an opportunity for the struggling switch user to engage in "real" communication. They can be supportive of students in terms of motivation, switch practice, and learning the pragmatic of conversations. This workshop covers why, who, when, and how to create and use co-planned sequenced scripts to support communication skills for AAC users.

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