Why are scripts so bad?

Ok first, let’s talk terms. In the autism world “scripting” generally refers to the practice of taking chunks of dialogue from places like tv shows or movies, and replaying them out (often over and over and over again) in real life. Sometimes it involves wanting other people to play a role in the script, to make a dialogue.

Frequently when I see people (particularly therapist types) talking about scripts, it is in terms of how you shouldn’t engage, shouldn’t participate, because that just encourages the behavior. Which, of course, carries the implicit assumption that there is something wrong with the behavior and we should ignore it until it goes away.

To which I ask – WHY??? What is so awful about scripts that we should just ignore them, regardless of the reason a person may be engaging in them, regardless of what may be communicated by them? It is because it looks autistic and we gotta look normal? Is it because neurotypicals get exasperated by lots of repetition? Seriously, what?

Luckily, there are also lots of people out there explaining about how scripts are communication. When we can’t put together words on our own, scripts provide words that are already put together. Now, I was not a scripter in that way, so I do not feel qualified to explain extensively about how scripting is communication. Instead, I will refer you to other sources who have explained it all excellently.


That said, I AM someone who was verbally precocious (I started speaking at 6 months) but who also finds that the connections between words, sentences, and conversations to be tenuous at best.

See, I like words. Words are pretty cool. I knew words at a *very* young age. Go me. However, putting words together into sentences is challenging. My mom, well before we figured out what was going on with me, would sometimes tell me about how, as an infant, I would “practice” talking. My mom and I would also practice conversations before I could talk. She would say something, I would babble, she would reply as though I had said something that made sense, I would babble more, and so on and so forth. I practiced a lot.

Now let’s talk about when I was older. I can remember as a child, needing to spend time before I was going to talk to someone making sentences. I needed to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to say it, because figuring that stuff out on the fly is incredibly hard. I also tried to predict what they would say in reply and formulate my responses ahead of time, so that I could do the conversation thing. That one tended to not go very well because people did not follow my scripts, and then I would flounder around trying to think of what I want to say, why I want to say it, how I should say it as fast as possible, all while they looked at me funny for taking so long. If I explained that it was because they didn’t follow the script, they would laugh at me for trying to script out my conversations. You’re just supposed to “go with the flow” don’t ya know.

As I’m sure I’ve expressed before, it still can take me a long time (up to months, sometimes) to put together my words into a way that conveys what I want it to convey. I have to think really hard about what I want to say, why I want to say it, what words to use and what order to put them in. And then if someone asks a question I’m not prepared for or responds in a surprising way? I have to do it all over again, and it takes time.

Most people don’t want to give that time. ESPECIALLY to someone who can pass for normal on the surface. What I do now is usually stumble around with a few of my rote responses, trying to pick one that sort of applies to the conversation so that they’ll stop looking at me expectantly and I can work through my words later.

This is not actually a fabulous solution. My rote responses are limited and people can usually tell that there is something a little … off … about my reply to them. It can also mean that I sometimes unintentionally give people the wrong impression about what I actually think or feel, which can make things really awkward later. Then, when I do finally have my words, they’ll be all “but we had that conversation days/weeks/months ago! And you said [something else]! Why are you only now telling me this, and why did you not tell me then?” And trying to explain all this, about how long it takes me to find words, about how much I think through before I can put my words together, is not an easy thing to do. I have not found many people want to listen, or understand at all. I’m “high functioning” so people can get really surprised when they learn I have very real challenges. Sometimes they get angry. People are strange.

I’m trying to find a better solution, but it’s tricky. Sometimes, when I think I won’t need more than a few minutes, I’ll just say “processing.” I got that one from Data on Star Trek:TNG. But when I need more time then that I just don’t know. (any ideas? I could use them)

So getting back to what started all this exploration – let’s imagine someone who has much more trouble that I do with making sentences. Who *really* struggles to make sentences fast enough to have conversations, or maybe just can’t make sentences that fast. Scripts provide pre-made sentences and conversations that make communication possible. *Talking* communication, which so many people value so highly.

It does not make sense to me to insist on talking, on sentences and conversation, and then reject an incredibly useful tool for having those sentences and conversations. If you want conversations, maybe let us have our stepping stones. You are asking something very challenging of us; yeah, it’s cool to be able to converse, but I can’t do it as easily as you do.
So I gotta ask – what is so bad about scripts? I just don’t see it.



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5 responses to “Why are scripts so bad?

  1. Autism Mom

    I hear my son practicing sentences and describing things all the time. I think it is terrific – doesn’t everyone do that before presentations or exams? He also scripts sometimes and we see it as a verbal stim reflecting some emotion (usually excitement or happiness). Again, totally ok with us – I appreciate being able to see into his emotions this way (though I might retreat to my bathroom for a quiet break!). Great post, thank you!

  2. I think that, like a lot of things, scripting behavior strikes neurotypicals as “a little off”. But that’s all it takes to be seen as a defective trait and so mark one out as a “Loser”. In the eyes of a lot of Normals, any defects (visible defects) are bad. And unexpected responses can confound even agreeable neurotypicals (because they’re odd and stop the conversation-flow).
    Also: Have you ever seen (a tv reference) the Star Trek Next Generation episode called “Darmok”? I know my son and I engage in a kind of scripting behavior very similar to what the Tamarians used….

  3. Tricia

    I don’t get the need for others, especially therapist, to put a stop to communication. Just because you, the listener, don’t get the whole conversation that doesn’t make the words, and the feelings behind the words, invalid.

    I’m very confused by this post, mostly because I don’t understand why this is being discouraged. People practice scripting all the time, whether they realize it or not. Look at any play or musical. Or how about a speech? Reciting a poem, debate club, writing a story. They all include a form of scripting, of going over the words again and again.

    Ok, so phrase A really means phrase z, but how is this different from an inside joke?

    I think I’m missing something?