Tag Archives: conversation

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.

https://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/she-gets-it/
http://emmashopebook.com/2014/10/09/scripts-a-communication-bridge/
http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2012/03/scripted-language-and-authenticity.html

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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What I meant/What I said

Connecting Cities 2013 - Networked City

I want to talk about a particular form of miscommunication that plagues me a bit in my life. When I have problems with miscommunication with people, it’s usually from this thing. That being – when what a person says and what a person meant are two different things.

Autism is defined by being a social disorder – that is what differentiates it from other developmental delays. As such, I do a lot of thinking about social things, including how I communicate. It is normal for me to spend a great deal of time thinking about what I want to say, why I want to say it, what my motivations and intentions are, what I am hoping to gain, and any number of other things that all culminate into the words I choose. This means that sometimes, especially for things that are personal or important, it can take me a long time to find my words. Weeks or months sometimes (and for the autism spectrum, that’s pretty fast. some people can take years). I also know that I can slip and mess up my words if I am in a situation where I am being pressured to find words before I can fully do my processing.

I have learned that other people do not go through this process. They just always have words. I have also learned, sometimes very harshly, that this means that people may not always be fully aware of what’s behind their words, or even believe that there is nothing else behind the words (this is almost never actually true). Additionally, allistic people are not immune to making errors in their communication or word choices.

What can be of profound frustration for me is what happens when those errors happen.

See, I try very hard to acknowledge my mistakes and do better. Other people… well, even if they have very good intentions, they are rarely happy to say “oh whoops, my mistake. let’s try again.” And that bothers me. A lot.

Ok, let me give an absurd example that probably never happens in real life that will hopefully help illustrate what I’m talking about.

Person1: I like baked potatoes!
Person2: What? I thought you hated baked potatoes.
P1: I do. What are you talking about? I like french fries.
P2. But you just said that you like baked potatoes.

It’s what happens next that can vex me. Now, it isn’t always bad. Nee and I seem to have a script that works very well when either one of us find ourselves accidentally using words that say something we don’t mean. So we would end the conversation something like this:

P1. Oh, did I? Whoops, sorry about that. I meant to talk about french fries.
P2. Oh, ok. I understand now.

This involves P1 admitting their mistake and acknowledging that what they said was not what they meant. It also involve P2 acknowledging that they meant something other than what they said. WIthout both parts, it does not really work. With this method of both parties participating and clearing up a word-usage error, meaning can come across more easily.

I think this has spoiled me, because I keep running into people who don’t work that way. Instead, the rest of the conversation goes something like this:

P1: I DID NOT JUST TALK ABOUT BAKED POTATOES! YOU ARE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT I’M SAYING!
P2: Bwah?

It all tends to go downhill from there. And yes, some people really have gotten incredibly vitriolic on me about this sort of thing. From my perspective, now they are lying. I am willing to believe that they meant something other than what their words actually said, but if they insist that their words were correct and I’m just being awful then I cannot move forward. I mean, I guess it’s true that I made an assumption about their words – I assumed they meant what they said. As assumptions go, it’s one I am very comfortable with.

After my post on feeling broken people exhorted me to see strengths in my autism. And I do try to – I am very good with details, I can be extremely determined, I see the world in ways other people do not – but it can be challenging when most of the world seems to want to focus on, and constantly remind me of, my deficiencies. This is an area where it kind of seems to be both a strength and a weakness. I put much more effort than most people do on finding and looking at words. I do this because it is a necessity for me, but it also puts me in a position where it is habitual for me to inspect word choices, which can be helpful. Sadly, it means that when there is a disconnect between what is said and what is meant, I seem to stall. And the rest of the world does not seem interested in finding a way to clear it up. I am expected to simply ignore the words used in favor of what was “meant” (except, of course, when I am not to do that and I get yelled at and called rude for trying to fully understand what is behind a person’s words. I just cannot win).

I wish it was normal for people to inspect their words. I wish people didn’t take it as some kind of attack if I point out what was actually said. I wish people could just say “whoops, I made a word error. I actually meant this thing.” When I make a word error and acknowledge it and try to find better words, I wish people were more willing to accept that I meant something other than what I said. Sadly, none of that seems to happen with people other than Nee, and it can be frustrating for me.

Hey world! You need to be better!

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We don’t need no conversation

A reader recently sent me a really great idea for a blog post regarding forming connections without conversation. I have so many thoughts about this that I’m not sure how to join together into a single blog post, but I’m going to do my best.

Much of this comes from the fact that allistic people really do seem to rely so heavily on conversation as a means to connect to people. It’s often simply a default assumption that we will all find conversation as easy as they do and that highly interactive social connection is simply the best way to socialize and spend time with other people.

So first of all, let’s talk about conversation. It isn’t nearly as simple as just knowing words, knowing how to speak, or being able to make sentences. Oh no, it really isn’t. I mean, I know lots of people seem to think that conversation just naturally follows being able to speak, and we put all sorts of effort into teaching children how to talk and just assume they’ll figure out conversing on their own. So let’s just look a bit at that, shall we?

Conversation involves lots (and lots and lots) of real-time processing. Processing the words people say, trying to figure out if anything may have been behind the words and if so, what that was, processing tone and facial expression and posture and body language and everything else that goes with conversations. While conversing I honestly find it rather unpleasant that we are expected to do all of that, just given how hard it can be for me to process visual information and auditory information at the same time. Even purely text-based conversations, when done in real-time, can be challenging with all the rapid processing that is necessary. Now, I personally do enjoy conversing, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that there needs to be more general knowledge out there about just how tricky conversations can be.

While I find conversations sometimes tricky and can only do them within certain limitations, other people find them nearly or entirely impossible. However, difficulty in conversation does not mean that we have no need for human connection. I sometimes see people claim that autistic people do not need or desire human connection, or that said desire is what separates autism from Aspergers and honestly, I increasingly find that a load of twaddle. The more I read books from the perspective of autistic people, the more I read blogs like A Diary of a Mom, the more I believe that yes, autistic people totally want connection too. I know I certainly do. However, we find it difficult. Allistic people want us to interact they way they interact, to look the way they look, to be the way they are, and that’s a very difficult and unreasonable thing to ask of us. So many people just don’t see the need to find a shared language to allow for connection, and when they think in terms of assisting us, it’s just ways to try to make us like them rather than trying to meet in the middle. This is bothersome to me, in so many ways.

BUT, this post is supposed to be about connecting to others without needing to rely on conversation. As a brief note staying within the realm of conversation for a bit – even just allowing for more time to process (potentially LOTS of time to process for some of us) in silence is huge. Don’t try to fill up space with words, don’t bombard us with more and more words if we aren’t answering right away. Don’t try to force us to do everything as rapidly as you do. Allow for time to process what you said, time to think about our response, time to translate that into words that we hope will make sense to you, and time to get those words out our mouths. That might take a while. It might not feel like a conversation anymore. That’s ok – it’s communicating and connecting. Importantly, it’s connecting with who we are rather than who you want us to be, and that is incredibly important.

Imagine if I tried to force my way of conversing onto everyone who talked to me. You may not look at me when you speak to me. You must outright say what you would otherwise rely on body language to convey. You must wait for a very long period of time before you answer a question or reply to me. No one would take that well! Yet the inverse is demanded from us All. The. Time.

Anyway. I really must get back to the topic at hand here. One of my favorite ways to connect to people is something I’ve talked about before – Parallel Play. Allistic people often demand, or at least prefer, conversation happen with it, but that is actually not at all necessary. There is also the related associative play – where we are doing similar things and interacting in some way, such as sharing materials. I find that allistic people seem to rank interactions as better or worse depending on how much it forces us to closely interact with the people we are with. Cooperative play is seen as “better” than associative play, which is better than parallel play, which is better than solitary play. Only maybe these are simply different, rather than better or worse. Maybe they are all entirely valid, and maybe a parallel play connection is actually just as real as a cooperative play connection. (hint: I don’t actually mean “maybe” in the previous sentence. They really are just as real and valid as each other)

Possum, the individual who originally proposed this topic, also posted a comment to my Parallel Play post describing just such a non-conversational connection she experienced once. With her permission, I am sharing it here:

One of the high points of my life socially was casually dropping by an acquaintance’s porch one summer longer ago than I’m going to admit to. She was in the middle of some woodworking project. As a woman with NVLD as well as Aspergers (both undiagnosed at the time), I couldn’t help a lot. We just “be”ed there together in companionable silence, me handing her the tools she needed. I considered that moment in time magic and was never able to replicate it, but the way you just articulated it and normalized it gives me what I need to create more of that in my life (in conjunction with an awesome therapist).

All things considered, I actually suspect this was a form of cooperative play (yes, I am using the word “play” here very broadly), just given the cooperative nature of what they were doing. Yet it was done in “companionable silence” (what a fantastic phrase that is!); it was interaction and connection done without needing to fill the space between each other with words and sounds that, for some of us, can actually just create more distance. See, when I talk about “filling space with words,” that’s actually what it feels like for me. Like words take up space and if you put a whole lot of them out there in a short period of time, they push on me, and they can actually push me away from you because there are just so many. Instead of connecting us, they’re just this cloud of bugs, separating us.

Autistic people need meaningful connection as well. It’s just that we can’t always do it on allistic terms, and all too often I see autistic people speak of simply giving up due to the extreme difficulty of connecting in a world that is all too hostile to autism. So, allistic people, please respect silent connection, and please allow us that as well. We work so hard to interact with you on your terms; maybe you could interact with us on our terms as well. Let’s find ways to create connections based on companionable silences; on long, thoughtful pauses; on closeness that does not need constant verbal validation.

That would be awesome.

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How to talk to me

At first I thought about making a “how to talk to introverts” post. Or maybe a “how to talk to anxious people” post, or a “how to talk to aspies” post. However, I really don’t think I’m qualified to speak on behalf of entire groups like that. I may be part of all of those groups but I’m not their spokesperson, and even within those groups, different things will work for different people. So instead, here’s a “how to talk to me” post.

Many, if not all, of the points I make will apply to lots of other people besides me, so this isn’t entirely self serving. They may apply to introverts, or to the socially anxious, or to autistic people, or any combination of the above. Ultimately, your best bet is to get to know people as individuals and figure out what works for them.

So, onwards to what works for me.

One of the biggest is to give me time to process and answer. If I am putting lots of energy into socializing, I can usually process quickly enough that people don’t notice much of a lag. However, if I am focused on something else or not pushing myself to process at top speed, it will take me some time to process what you said, come up with a response, and put that response into words that make sense. Importantly, I really need you to stop talking while I’m working on that. I cannot listen to someone and process my response at the same time, so every time you start talking again I need to begin the process all over again.

Really, any time you are wanting a response from me, it is important to stop talking in order to get it. I’ve noticed that sometimes people seem to just keep talking and talking and talking and just won’t stop, and I’m politely waiting for them to stop talking so that I can respond and it never seems to happen. Eventually I will tune them out (which feels very rude and I don’t like doing it) so that I can come up with a response, and then interrupt to say something. What’s always so odd is they respond as though that is what they were waiting for me to do.

I don’t like socializing this way. Let’s take turns, and please give me the time and space I need. If you want me to be at all relaxed around you, this is even more important. The more relaxed I am, the slower I am to process and respond (Nee would probably attest to that one). So I like it when people are ok with that.

Moving on – this goes against the usual tips I see about socializing, but please don’t touch me without permission. Not even a handshake. I will be far more comfortable with you if you keep your hands to yourself and refrain from thrusting body parts in my direction with the expectation of grabbing one of my body parts. Eventually I might feel comfortable enough with you to engage in social touch, but please let it be on my terms. Beginning an interaction with a handshake guarantees that I will feel tense and icky for it.

Don’t try to force eye contact. I might look at your face when we talk, but I will never even glance at your eyes. Even looking at faces is draining and I might more look in your vague, general direction. However, that is draining too, so I might just look away from you. It depends on how much energy I have, and how I feel it’s best to use that energy. I don’t need to look at your in order to listen to you. On the contrary, oftentimes I listen much better when I’m looking away, and don’t need to process lots of visual information at the same time that I’m processing all that auditory information. Respect that.

Mostly what I need is for you to respect my differences. Don’t try to force me to interact like everyone else thinking that it qualifies as “improvement” because it does not. Improvement is being able to interact with people without being unduly stressed or exhausted. Allowing me to be the way I am is the best way to accomplish that goal.

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Conversation via templates

Something I hear sometimes from people on the autism spectrum is the idea that conversation is difficult. It isn’t universal or anything, but there does seem to be a bit of a trend that even those of us who are verbal and can express ourselves with words may not have an easy time with conversation (or in some instances, may not be able to converse at all).

I am one who has difficulty with conversation. It isn’t impossible for me or anything, but it took me a while and I’ve gone through a number of tools to try to help make it easier, some of which have worked better than others.

When I was younger I used scripts a lot. Not in the conventional autistic sense of having certain scripts that we like to use over and over and over again, but in that I would try to write out my conversations ahead of time so that I would be able to know what to say. This worked very poorly because no one ever followed their lines. Of course, I also did not tell people what their lines were, but I was pretty much always surprised when the conversation did not go the direction I had planned. Then I tended to wind up confused and caught off-guard, and didn’t know how to proceed. Sometimes my various thoughts would get all scattered, as though my script was the framework holding them in logical order and when the script failed, so did the logical order. How can I say the things I want to say when they aren’t in order anymore?

Clearly, I needed to find a better way to do conversations. Especially conversations that I was going into with Things I Wanted to Say. People often liked to tell me to just “go with the flow” which was very not helpful for me. Just winging conversations might work, sometimes, but it could just as easily (if not more so) leave me panicky and floundering in confusion. So what else to do?

I wound up settling on templates, which for me are distinct from scripts and do not have the particular pitfalls that trying to script my conversations beforehand do. One of my most basic, foundational templates is the ‘taking turns’ template. I say something, then you say something, then I say something, then you say something, etc. Ideally, we each listen to what the other person said respond to it or build on it in some way. This can be a good baseline for one-on-one conversations, but it does not translate to groups at all, and is no good for people who do not follow that basic, turn-taking formula. And in those situations, I am still stumped. It is yet another reason why groups leave me bewildered, and I cannot handle conversing with people who do things like regularly interrupt.

I have other, more specific, templates as well. For instance, the “small talk” template. Small talk is one of those things that I do not understand the importance of, but recognize that interaction goes better if I play the small talk game at least a little. I don’t need to have some deep understanding of it in order to participate.

When I need to make a phone call or talk to someone when I know I need to communicate certain things, I will often create a template for that conversation. Scripting was a way for me to order the things I had to say, and give myself a way to say them. Now, I do something kind of similar, but with flexibility built in. My usual solution is to take out a notebook and jot down all the things I know I want to say or ask about, as well as my answers to questions they are likely to ask. Even to the point of writing down my phone number so I can reference it if it’s asked for, just to make sure I don’t freeze or have a long, awkward pause while I try to grab that information. Because when it comes down to it, I have a really hard time accessing information in my memory while I am trying to navigate interacting with a person I don’t know. So to deal with that, I try to make sure there isn’t much I need to remember – instead, it’s all on the paper in front of me.

Then I can reference what I wrote, mark off what I’ve gotten to, and make sure I don’t leave things out. When things don’t go in order (and they never, ever do) I don’t risk forgetting something important, nor do I wind up so flustered that I can’t go forward.

Overall, using templates to help me talk to people has been immensely helpful. While it isn’t a perfect solution by any means, it’s the best idea I’ve had so far and it does what I need it to do.

Do you have difficulty with conversations or phone calls or such things? If so, what tools do you use to manage them?

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