A lesser known autistic trait is autistic scripting. Read on to learn what this is and why it happens.
What is autistic scripting?
Autistic scripting is a form of autistic masking that happens because the autistic person is trying to fit in and not stand out too much. Autism scripting involves repeating words or phrases in a effort to mask autism traits.
Autistic scripting can be from movies, TV shows, quotes, things other people have said or things they have read.
Scripting is not delayed echolalia
Non-autistic people describe autistic scripting as delayed echolalia, but this is not what is happening. (Echolalia is repetition of another person’s spoken words without the true meaning behind them.) In fact, it is a great example of non-autistic people attempting to define the autistic experience through their own narratives.
Scripting is a form of masking for autistic people, so that we can fit into society instead of standing out too much. Delayed echolalia is when words are repeated at a later time. Immediate echolalia is when words are repeated immediately.
For example, if your autistic child repeats everything you say, it’s echolalia.
Neurotypical kids engage in echolalia, but it is seen as a positive because they’re practicing a language. When an autistic child is practicing echolalia, it is viewed as negative and dysfunctional because it’s out of context and considered inappropriate.
Delayed echolalia is both a typical development process in children and a vocal stim. It is not a form of masking, therefore it is not the same as scripting.
What autism scripting looks like
Here are examples of what autistic scripting may look like:
- Watching and imitating GIFs and/or character reactions
- Studying movies (rewinding and rewatching clips and scenes, taking curiosity in scenes or characters, and possibly even asking a lot of questions about them)
- Practicing scripts in a mirror
- Mainly communicating through memorized scripts
- Memorized words, phrases and speech patterns
Why autistics communicate with scripts
Neurotypical people give value and worthiness to their social relationships, therefore anyone who does not respond in a typical way is penalized socially. Autistic people are incapable of responding to neurotypical communication in the expected way. They cannot give their actual desired response without being told that it’s a joke or they need to calm down.
As a result, autistic children learn they need to script their conversations and actions in order to survive and be perceived as functioning members of society.
Since autistic children are put through behavioral therapies where they’re taught to communicate through social stories, they learn early on that they are not allowed to be honest in conversations.
Autistic children are not innocent, in that they know they are different and do not fit in. More often than not your child knows that they are attending therapy instead of an after-school club, so they can learn how to be “normal”.
How scripting affects autistic adults
Since scripting is a form of autistic masking, it is a major contributor to autism burnout.
Imagine going several years without telling somebody how you actually feel about them. If you told them, you would be penalized and put on display because it was the wrong thing to say. This is why autistic people script.
Autistic adults have to unlearn neurotypical communication in order to unmask their autism. They can’t heal from autism burnout completely until they unmask.
Autistic scripting affects every aspect of life:
- Email signatures
- Phone calls
- Ordering food
- Job interviews
- Birthday cards and personal letters
- How you shower or wash your hair
- Formal and informal greetings
Because of how deeply rooted the scripting goes, autistic people who script cannot do anything without a plan or script. Not every script or process is available on Google.
Ultimately, everything an autistic person says when scripting is based off a script. It might not be what they actually want to say, but an attempt at survival.
Non-autistic people can just answer the phone and dive into conversations without preparation. This is a major reason why autistic people struggle on the phone. If they don’t have a script to reference with all the potential ways of conversation on the phone might go, they won’t be able to partake in the conversation.
I know that I personally freeze and fail if I don’t have a script to work with.
Scripting is not just words
Autism scripting is not just what you hear them say. It also includes choosing to dress like somebody else, whether it’s a classmate or a random person from a magazine.
This is why it’s so important to embrace your child’s autism, because scripting contributes to having no idea who you are. It also prevents you from forming real connections with people, because you spend the entire time repeating quotes from pop culture and lines from songs instead of actually sharing your thoughts with a person.
It also creates a struggle of not knowing how to communicate your needs to other people. For example, autistic people are seeking emotional validation when they want or ask for an apology — not an “I’m sorry”. Not having that emotional validation can cause them to feel alone, burdensome, or like their feelings don’t matter.
When an autistic person feels like they’re feelings don’t matter, it may create a meltdown/shutdown trigger. Every aspect of who they are eventually becomes based off a collection of what they’ve attached to from pop culture.
For over 15 years, every single facial expression I had came from a GIF I had seen on the internet. Every smile and mannerism I had adopted came from what I saw on TV.
How to stop autistic scripting
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to your child’s scripting.
Autism scripting is a survival mechanism they have turned to as a result of realizing that they cannot be themselves and still acceptable and loved. Children want love from their parents and guardians by default. Being autistic does not change that — it just means communicating it differently. Autistic people have more than the typical five love languages.
In an ideal world, autistic people would not have to script. Their autism would be embraced and society would accept people who are different from them.
Until then, the best way to work towards autistic people not scripting anymore is to teach non-autistics how to communicate diversely. Non-autistic children need to be taught not to judge people who don’t think, speak or communicate the same way as them.
Love them because they are autistic, because their autism does define them, because it is who they are. Don’t ever stop. See them as autistic, not your child…with autism. Advocate for them like this.
That said, scripts are needed in everyday life. You need a script to order food, because you can’t always do it through an app, as well as for the bank, when you get pulled over, etc. People use scripts everyday. Autistic people just don’t know these scripts. Instead, they learn how to hide their autism as children in exchange for love, safety and acceptance.
Embrace their autism. There is no word to describe the feeling of somebody accepting me, a “textbook autistic”, in all my autistic glory. That’s all your autistic child wants from you.
Otherwise, scripting will always be a necessary tool in autistic people’s arsenals to survive.
Have you dealt with autism scripting with yourself or your child? Share about it in the comments below.