Perseveration: Brought to You by the Number 2

This is what social script fail looks like:

Restaurant hostess: “How are you today?”
Me: “Two!”
Hostess: “Great!”

Once we were seated at our table, my husband waited a few minutes before gently pointing out that when the hostess asked me how I was, I replied, “Two.”

I explained that I was expecting her to ask “how many?” not “how are you?” Once I’ve loaded a social script into my brain, it can be hard to stop it from executing. Even though I heard the words “how are you,” by the time I processed the question, my brain had already pulled the trigger on “two!” and I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.

That’s perseveration in action. The same tendency that makes aspies prone to repetitive actions and thoughts also causes the “persistence of the same verbal response regardless of the stimulus.”*

In my head I’d already rehearsed the answer to the anticipated question–the stimulus–a couple of times. When the “stimulus” changed and the actual question was different from the rehearsed question, I couldn’t shift my response to something appropriate.

Admittedly I was distracted by a conversation we’d been having on the way to the restaurant so my dependence on the script was greater than normal. I was on social script autopilot. Thankfully, the hostess was deep in her own script (Great!) so she glossed right over my reply and whisked us off to a table for two without even blinking.

And for the rest of the day, whenever I randomly blurted out “Two!” my husband replied “Great!” and then we both burst out laughing.

Every. Single. Time.

*from Mosby’s Medical dictionary

10 thoughts on “Perseveration: Brought to You by the Number 2”

    1. Thank you for the link. I read that post and the one linked from the bottom of it. Both were fascinating. I can really relate to the processing delay during conversations, especially when I’m stressed or anxious. Sometimes it’s so bad I just have to ask the other person to repeat what they said.

      Please go ahead and share share links when you have something you think I’d enjoy. I love reading about other’s experiences.

  1. I would define the situation as inertia, not perseverance. Perseverance means the ability to hold onto an objective over long time amidst resistance and obstacles. It has positive connotations and relate to concepts like stamina, focus, achievement. Inertia is the automatic, purposeless continuation of a move that has been started because it takes time to stop and change direction, or the automatic continuation of a behaviour after it has lost its original meaning.

    1. Inertia is a good synonym for the situation. I went with the technical medical term (perseveration) which is actually quite similar to perseverance and makes it confusing a bit, I guess? Thanks to your comment, I looked up both persevere and perseverate and found that they come from the same Latin root. This would make a great post I think – the way both something with negative connotations and something with positive connotations have the same root, both linguistically and maybe behaviorally too. Thank you for the thought-provoking comment!

  2. I’m not sure if I have social scripts (though, I do have one for the question ‘how are you?’, and it often backfires -_-), but I often have a favorite word that I use very repetitively when reacting to certain situations. ‘Oh dear’ and ‘fantastic’ are my current favorites, along with ‘indeed’ and ‘sexy’ (don’t ask xD). Does this count, I wonder?

    1. I think that stock replies can be a form of scripting. Scripting seems to be anything that saves us from having to come up with an “original” reply on the spot, which can be really challenging. Ask me an unexpected question and you’ll get some uncomfortable silence for sure.

  3. I just found this blog today and am working through the posts chronologically. I’m having to fight the urge to make a list of all the times I’ve thought, “Oh, that’s so me!” while reading. In the past year, I’ve begun to suspect that I may have AS, and reading this (chronologically and really, really wanting to make a list!) is definitely adding to my suspicions. I’m hoping that in the latter posts you discuss how you got evaluated and diagnosed, as I have no idea how to go about that and the idea is very daunting.

    1. Yes, the urge to make a list should definitely be on the list of AS traits. Also, reading all of the posts chronologically. 🙂

      I wrote an entire series (and later a short book) about getting evaluated and diagnosed so you’ll eventually come upon that. It was posted as a weekly series over the course of about 14 weeks. Feel free to leave any questions you have as comments on any post. I try to reply to all of the comments, even on really old posts. And good luck with your self-discovery!

    2. I actually got diagnosed BECAUSE I’d made a list. Five pages. With APA style literature quotations. According to the criteria in the DSM. It wasn’t the content, it was the thoroughness and the sheer singlemindedness of making such a list that made them believe me. 😛

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