Developing Students’ Social Skills through Scripting

02j81875Developing Students’ Social Skills through Scripting

by Patty Mayo, Pattii Waldo, and Becky L. Spivey


What is scripting?

Scripting is the practice of using focused scripts of typical situations and encounters to help teach students appropriate social skills and behaviors. Using scripts to role-play provides an organized plan for teaching particular social skills that include:

  • Thinking about one’s behavior before, during, and after speaking.
  • Using appropriate eye contact, voice, tone, expression, and posture.
  • Respecting someone’s personal space.
  • Learning to participate appropriately in groups.
  • Being assertive without being pushy.
  • Dealing with peer pressure.
  • Taking charge of one’s feelings.
  • Giving and responding to criticism.
  • Disagreeing with others.
  • Settling conflicts.
  • Compromising and negotiating.
  • Dealing with failure or being left out.Applicable to all students, but particularly students on the autism spectrum or with attention deficit disorder, social scripts help teach students how to interact with peers and adults, manage their anxiety, and address behaviors like aggression, fear, and obsessions. Using social scripts is like practicing for a play, but the play is real life. Students may feel awkward at first because their words are scripted, but with practice students become more spontaneous and comfortable. The goal of scripting is to help students transfer the social skills learned using the scripts to other situations.

Who needs scripting?

Students that don’t seem to fit in with others in the class are easily identifiable by peers and teachers and may be isolated from their peers because of what they do or do not do. This isolation may continue throughout their lifetime, creating much unhappiness and may lead to maladjustment in school, delinquency, and problems adjusting as adults. Socially different describes students who are unable to maintain social acceptance. They may not use appropriate eye contact, not know how to open or close a conversation, or have trouble with self-control.

Students with social skill deficits usually have (1) a lack of knowledge, (2) a lack of practice or feedback, (3) a lack of cues or opportunities, (4) a lack of reinforcement, and (5) the presence of interfering behaviors. Four components in training a student with scripting include: modeling, role-playing, performance feedback, and transfer of training.

What can a typical lesson of scripting provide for the student?

Daily observations of students’ social abilities can help determine the skills that need practice as well as reports from others who interact with these students. Basic social abilities, such as greeting someone or starting a conversation, are a good place to begin. Eye contact, listening, starting and ending a conversation, and respecting personal space should be part of every scripting lesson. Skills should be applicable to the students’ daily experiences, needs, and interests in order to help maintain their motivation. Scripts need to match life experiences at home, at school, in their community, and possibly in their workplace. Students should share their experiences to help make the scripts more interesting and relevant. Personal experiences can also help identify cultural and regional differences for each social skill. Blending humor into the scripts or using silly names for the characters helps maintain motivation. Once students are comfortable with practicing the scripts, short field trips can provide opportunities to practice and enhance their skills. The inclusion of skilled peers is often helpful to the social skills class or target group. Because socially challenged students tend to associate with other socially challenged students, the addition of skilled peers helps the students with social differences acquaint themselves with others outside their usual circle of friends. Skilled peers can model social situations appropriately for the target students.

There are no classes that focus on social skills at my school. What then?

If a “social skills class” is not available at your school, social skills training still can, and should be, integrated into the students’ day. Besides social skills, teachers can also use scripting to enhance reading, English, and language arts classes. Real-life situations provide students with opportunities to respond orally or through written expression. Students can improve reading by practicing fluency and expression. Any creative educator can integrate scripting into a variety of classroom experiences. Providing opportunities to learn appropriate behaviors will encourage a sense of self-satisfaction, accomplishment, and social-skill competence for students or individuals with social differences.

Lazy Is NOT A Diagnosis – Clues To “Lazy” Students By David Stowell

Lazy Is NOT A Diagnosis – Clues To “Lazy” Students
recently sat down with the parents of a high school student who has managed to barely get by in school. When we finished an in depth testing process we discovered he has some serious learning problems. His parents told me with aching regret, that in the past, they had punished their son and taken things away because they had been told that his poor performance in school was due to “laziness and a behavior problem.”

Have you ever seen one of these kids that look lazy?

Maybe they always have their head on the desk. Others just never seem to be able to get started. Or maybe they just seem tired all the time, moving slowly, working slowly, barely able to muster any energy until it’s time for recess, P.E., or lunch. When asked about homework, they might say they didn’t have time, or didn’t have the right book, or maybe even say they just didn’t feel like doing it.

When teachers have gone “above and beyond,” done all they can do and the student doesn’t appear to be trying, lazy is often the only obvious conclusion left.

What we know about students is that if
they could do the work, they would do it. 

Not doing work is really embarrassing, and no student wants to be embarrassed.

So what is it with these lazy-like kids? Difficulty learning usually has its root in one or more areas of inefficient processing or thinking, which are interrupting expected academic development.

Believe it or not, the developmental foundation for learning begins in utero. There is a developmental continuum that depends on each skill/ability building on the group that develops before it. If there is interference in this development, even at the earliest levels, it can affect school performance. 

Let’s take a look at just one of these interferences.

Primitive Reflexes
The Central Nervous System is the control center for all development and learning. Its job is to facilitate a person’s ability to move well, speak fluently, play, and develop skills for living and learning.

Primitive survival reflexes, or automatic movements that occur without thinking, begin as early as 9 weeks in utero and are fully present at birth. These reflexes are necessary to help the baby with the birth process and with survival during the early months of life.

As the nervous system and the brain continue to develop after birth, new neurological connections are made and higher functions in the brain take over. The primitive reflexes are no longer needed and in fact, get in the way of the child’s thinking and learning if they remain active. 

Remember, these reflexes are automatic (like a baby becoming startled or grasping your finger). They occur without thought. 

Efficient learning depends upon more complex voluntary controlled movements and higher thought processes, so primitive reflexes need to become integrated and inactive. This should occur naturally by about 9-12 months of age.

When primitive reflexes are retained, they can cause neurological interference that affects motor control, sensory perception, eye-hand coordination, and thinking, producing anxiety and causing the person to have to work too hard and with less efficiency than would be expected. This is called neuro-developmental delay.

Dr. Lawrence J. Beuret, M.D., of Palatine, Illinois has developed an NDD checklist, clues that a delay may be occurring, which includes these risk factors:

Pregnancy and Birth:

  • Complications with pregnancy, labor,or delivery
  • Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds)
  • Delivery more than 2 weeks early or late
  • Difficulties for infant at birth: blue baby, difficulties breathing, heavily
  • Difficulties for infant at birth: blue baby, difficulties breathing, heavily bruised, low Apgar scores, distorted skull, jaundice


  • Feeding problems in the first six months 
  • Walking or talking began after 18 months
  • Unusual/severe reactions to immunization 
  • During first 18 months: Illness involving high fever, delirium, convulsions

Family History:

  • Reading/writing difficulties
  • Learning disorders
  • Motion sickness
  • Underachievers

The following learning challenges can be related to neuro-developmental delay:

  • Dyslexia or Learning Difficulties, especially reading, spelling and comprehension
  • Poor sequencing skills
  • Poor sense of time
  • Poor visual function/processing skills
  • Slow in processing information
  • Attention and concentration problems
  • Inability to sit still/fidgeting
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Easily distracted and/or impulsive
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, light, or touch
  • Poor posture, coordination, balance, or gait
  • Poor handwriting
  • Clumsiness/accident prone
  • Slow at copying tasks
  • Confusion between right and left
  • Reversals of letters/numbers and midline problems
  • Quick temper/easily frustrated/short fuse
  • Can’t cope with change/must have things a certain (their) way
  • School Phobia
  • Poor motivation and/or self esteem
  • Depression, anxiety or stress

Behavioral, self esteem and motivational problems are associated with this list.

Core Learning Skills Training
Movement is an integral part of learning. The kinds of movements needed for learning are intentional and controlled. For example, visually following an object with the eyes, holding a pencil, moving the mouth to form sounds and words, or kicking a ball all require intentional control of the muscles. According to Dr. Samuel Berne, O.D., “when this neurological control of the muscles follows an unconscious reflex instead of following intention, the movement pattern becomes confusing instead of becoming an automatic learned skill.”

In order for comfortable learning to occur, basic physical skills such as balance and being able to use both sides of the body (right-left and upper-lower) together in a coordinated fashion must be in place. With stimulation through specific kinds of movement activities, primitive reflexes can be integrated so that the neurological and motor systems are more available for higher level movement and thinking tasks.

We frequently have students who have great difficulty maintaining good posture while sitting in a chair. At first glance, it looks like a motivation or attitude problem, but our work with reflex integration and core learning skills training has shown us that these students simply don’t have the muscle control to do what is asked with any consistency.

What Can Be Done
In a clinical setting, we have developed a program called Core Learning Skills. It focuses on the integration of five primitive reflexes that are core to efficient learning and functioning. It also includes activities for vestibular stimulation, motor development, visual skills development, attention awareness and control. 

As students participate in Core Learning Skills Training, we see that they begin to appear more mature, motivated, and attentive because they are no longer battling inefficient movement patterns and are gaining automatic motor control.

In a classroom setting, there is a series of movements you can use with your students. These can take as little as 5 minutes and help prepare the brain for learning. While these are not specifically for reflex integration, doing these movements will give students greater focus and ability to use the skills they have in a more efficient way.

The program is called Brain Gym by Paul Dennison. You can find this resource at

Becoming a Successful Student
Being a successful student involves many skills. When a child is struggling in school and a little extra support isn’t making enough difference, it is likely that there is something in the developmental learning skills or underlying processing skills that is interfering with academic success. In most cases, these skills can be developed so that efficient and comfortable learning can take place.

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