Autism: “self + -ism” (from the Greek prefix, auto = self)
I’ve been learning a lot of new words since the advent of my son’s diagnosis of ASD. One of them is scripting. As a teacher of the arts, I immediately liked the sound of this new vocab term. It sounds so theatrical! Essentially, it’s often linked with the term echolalia, both of which refer to when someone repeats something (like an echo: makes sense). The term scripting is more often used to reference the recitation of lines from movies and books, but it can be the repetition of any chunk of dialogue in the person’s memory. A lot of us recite or ‘script’ favorite lines and quotes (my husband throws out obscure 90’s R and B lyrics with reckless abandon); the key difference is why people with autism script. There’s no exact science (which is why autism is so complicated), but scripting can indicate feelings of extreme stress, excitement, or function as a cryptic means of communication.
Which brings us to our anecdote.
Two days ago, Big C (my three year-old with ASD) and I were having fun with Play-doh. I was also using our “play time” as a teaching moment. We were working on colors, turn-taking, and verbalizing what we were thinking (I say we, but it was mostly me). At one point, he tired of sharing and asked me to work with my own Play-doh so he could do his own thing.
Once I had made a little sculpture by myself, I asked Big C if he liked it. He looked over and said, “I do not like that hat. Good-bye!”
To the innocent bystander, it would appear Big C completely misunderstood me. But he didn’t. He was scripting from a book by P.D. Eastman called Go, Dog, Go! that I read to him roughly six months ago. In the book, a female dog repeatedly asks a male dog if he “likes her hat” and the male dog says, “I do not like that hat. Good-bye!”
Big C totally understood me. He just had an unusual way of showing it.
This moment was so important for me and Big C. It was a solid reminder of why my son is hard for others to understand. Yes, he does struggle with articulation, but more often, it’s not how he says things, but what he says. He appears to be speaking out of context, but instead, he is making amazing connections between what he is ‘reading’ with what he is experiencing. He’s taking the reading concept of “talking to the text” to a whole new level. When the time comes for Big C to write literary analyses and cite examples from the text, he is going to be a pro!
BUT, I recognize more clearly now why this is a social impairment for him. Much as I’d like to, I cannot follow Big C around and translate for him, citing to others how clever he is with his literary quips.
What I CAN do though is teach him how to explain to others his seemingly obscure connections.
In response to my question, what if he said this instead: “Mom, I know what I should say. Society says I should tell a white lie, that I like your sculpture. Instead, I’d like to provide you with a literary anecdote from an antiquated children’s book you read to me that highlights the masochistic society of the 1950’s with the use of male and female dogs. You see, the female dog keeps looking for the male dog’s approval by seeking a compliment about her hat. He denies her several times as she continues to change her appearances for his benefit. At the text’s end, he decides her hat is worthy and they ride off into the sunset. While I don’t care for the gender biases of the text, I appreciate the display of brutal honesty. That’s why I need to be brutally honest with you now. I know you want me to say I like your sculpture, but I don’t. Maybe you should try again.”
Of course, he could simply say, “Your question reminds me of a book we read once.”
That would certainly suffice.
Call it scripting. Call it echolalia. I call it pretty damn clever!