Just Take it One Step at a Time

Think about the last time you were sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office. How did you know what to do when you entered, after you had signed in, as you waited and watched other people enter the office? How do any of us manage to go about our daily activities with relative ease, and without needing to ponder how we should respond in each and every situation?

Cognitive scripts allow all of us to navigate our normal activities with ease, by helping us know what is expected and how we should respond in a variety of situations. As you think about the appropriate reactions in a high school basketball game, at a fancy restaurant, or at a funeral, you can probably imagine what the expected behaviors and responses are. When we experience a situation that is new to us, we may feel some tension as we watch others to see what their response is so that we can mimic what we hope is the appropriate behavior. However, most people can rely on past experiences and good observation skills to get them through the initial discomfort.

For individuals with executive function deficits, new situations can cause an increase in anxiety as they attempt to navigate the unknown. Inflexibility in thinking can add to the difficulties encountered as they struggle to interpret what they see others doing. Not knowing how to respond in a situation can result in an increase in impulsivity and a decrease in problem-solving skills. Fortunately, individuals with EF challenges can receive support for new activities and situations through written cognitive scripts that clarify the expected behaviors and responses.

For example, many students with autism may struggle with school activities that require them to discuss a topic with a partner or in a small group. This is a great opportunity for a cognitive script that describes the steps to take to engage in a classroom discussion.

Discussion Cognitive Script

The Discussion Cognitive Script Strategy Card provides student-friendly instructions, along with a copy of the cognitive script, that can be provided to students so that they can use the strategy independently.

The cognitive script is read and discussed before the student is expected to engage in the new activity. For some students, practicing the cognitive script in a safe environment, prior to engaging in the new environment, can provide additional support and lead to greater success. A cognitive script provides the step-by-step guidelines that individuals with EF challenges need to organize and understand new activities and situations. They can be used in social situations, at school, at work, and in the community with students of all ages, as well as with adults.

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