Joining us this week is Jehan Shehata-Aboubakr, a speech and language pathologist at Clinical Communication Consultants in Thornhill, Ontario (just north of Toronto) where she practices with a functional pragmatic and DIR/Floortime approach. She is an expert DIR provider and trainer with the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL) and faculty with Profectum. We have been working together on advocacy, trying to get developmental approaches funded here and it’s a pleasure to finally feature Jehan on the podcast!

What is scripting all about? with Jehan Shehata-Aboubakr

by Affect Autism

What is scripting?

The common understanding of scripting is a child reciting lines from a favourite TV show or movie. It can also be echolalia where the child repeats whatever you say. Children might also script as they talk to themselves in the mirror or it might be used in a functional way, Jehan says. Scripting is language in the social sense. 

It has a purpose: to share meaning, it has a social intent and an expression of feelings and/or experiences from their own world of knowledge. Our kids don’t yet have the language in terms of content, ideas, knowledge about the world, grammar, and structure. It may be considered a problem with language comprehension and may not be as expected or considered appropriate from our perspective.

Listen to the UNIQUELY HUMAN podcast Echolalia and Unconventional Verbal Behavior

The Function of Scripting

To us it might seem that the child has just memorized a line and is repeating it with no purpose, but Jehan says that is not the case. We also use a lot of expressions in day-to-day social interactions. Scripting is an entry into language for those who have yet to master language and for us it’s an entry point to engage with our children. We have to figure out what they’re bringing to us and try to respond to it. They get the feeling or reason within the script they pick and they use it quite appropriately in the context of our interaction, so we need to look at their intent.

This is quite different than they’re soothing themselves, they’re disregulated, it’s inappropriate, you should ignore it, you need to redirect it, etc. that some approaches suggest. The Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) approach instead takes a relational approach by looking at the intent. We don’t try to ignore or change them, rather we try to engage them and engage in a back-and-forth interaction with them.

Scripting based on a developmental understanding is a language comprehension piece. We know that the child is taking in the world through interactions through the eyes of the parents before speech starts, Jehan says. The children do have an understanding of the world around them, they are just not yet able to put that understanding into words and sentences, so they are borrowing it from scripts they’ve heard. 

They are sharing this with us so we need to figure out within the context of our situation with them and play it to deepen their understanding. We need to respect the children as partners in the interaction so they have a sense of being a partner in the interaction. There, we use the grammar and structure to confirm their intent and their feelings.


Jehan shared that one of her clients was climbing an ottoman next to a bookshelf, so she said “Be careful!” The girl replied, “It’s raining! It’s raining!” Mom translated that one day at school pick-up it was pouring rain and the teacher was yelling, “It’s raining! Run!” The girl related Jehan’s warning of danger to that teacher’s warnings. The message had intent and purpose.

In every scripted expression, the child either is sharing information, confirming a statement, or to request. There is a purpose and with an end-product that they would like to seem, Jehan says. It’s considered atypical because these children are verbal, but the way in which they are using their language may not be conventional.

Jehan refers to the documentary “Life Animated” in which a family discovers that their autistic son is learning about the world through Disney films so they being to communicate with him in Disney script. It gave their son a sense of respect, appreciation and of being a partner in life, saying the words the child could use in language as a model for them. And this was their son’s form of play. In play he could face his fears about growing up.

Floortime for Scripting

Jehan goes through the steps we take with our children staring with seeing them regulate, then engage, then reciprocate. That’s the foundation for language development. It’s comprehension first. Then once there’s this back-and-forth going, you have the sharing and they have the opportunity and the breathing space to share their ideas in their own language

That’s when we go in and respond and it becomes alive. Here’s where they start picking up–in that interaction and communication–the ‘conventional’ language. We follow their lead by going to what they’re thinking and feeling and to their understanding of the world when we engage. The child needs to be interested and motivated. To deepen his understanding of his world, he needs to be appreciated in the back-and-forth and feel safe in the Relationship.

By following the child’s motivation and interest we also need to meet them where they are developmentally. When we do, we can present a ‘just right’ playful challenge. When the child relates the present experiences in the moment with past experiences within the interaction, it is wiring the brain. Jehan assesses not with pictures but within the interaction to determine the complexity of ideas and the use of language. There are props in the room and she gives the example of one child grabbing a crocodile.

She came to understand that the crocodile is powerful and strong and he needs to identify with that crocodile and be called ‘crocodile’. He wanted her to be the tiger and was hesitant about the peer interaction that he so badly wanted. They had to engage in a fight and through that interaction there were a lot of feelings and understanding and Jehan was able to expand, through that engagement, the notion of winning and losing, being vulnerable and disappointed, and taking turns. 

Eventually with repetition he could accept that the tiger could win too and expanded the depth of his understanding of winning and losing, etc. And eventually they moved beyond just having ‘the fight’ and began racing and doing other types of play. From her engaging in his scripts, they ended up where they shared ideas and problem solved. She also had the opportunity to cover the concepts of ‘on top’, ‘too close’, ‘too far’, etc. in the play, and he was on his way to picking up conventional language.

Our Role as Caregivers

Often parents who are new to Floortime say “my child isn’t interested in playing with me” but often it’s that the parent isn’t interested in playing with the child. This is a major shift for parents that can make a big difference in doing Floortime. Once you focus on what the child is interested in, everything changes. There is no instruction book. It’s a trial and error, and once you master a rhythm, your child develops and you need to do more trial and error.

Jehan points out that our children are social, living, human beings and they are sensitive to our emotional state. We cannot be scripting, pun not intended, our interactions with our children. We must be attuned to them and in the moment. We need to be focused on what’s happening in that interaction in each moment so the child feels heard, appreciated, and safe. We cannot teach top-down for hours on end. We cannot put the child under the gun by asking a ton of questions which only reassure us as to what the child knows. It’s not about us.

Comprehension is important and we don’t want to expect our children to jump to our expectations. Rather, we want to reach out and offer a hand to support their development as described in this podcast. Gene Christian described so wonderfully the importance of developing the early social-emotional non-verbal affective interactions with our children. Within a back-and-forth is the foundation for language and communication. To have language, we have to have comprehension.

Thank you to Jehan Shehata-Aboubakr for taking the time to discuss her experience and knowledge of scripting from a developmental perspective. If you found this post helpful or informative, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to add comments or relevant experiences in the Comments section below.

Until next time, here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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