Echolalia and Scripting: Straddling the Border of Functional Language

The Scientist and I went out to dinner last Friday night. It was the day after I’d taped my radio interview and I was feeling wiped out, so we decided to treat ourselves.

During the course of dinner, the waitress made many visits to our table, asking the questions that waitresses do.

How are you tonight?

Would you like me to bring any ketchup or hot sauce?

Is there anything else I can get you?

Would you like more water?

Do you want to see the dessert menu?

To every one of those questions (and perhaps others I don’t remember) I replied, “I’m good.”

“I’m good” made sense the first time and is an okay answer for the others, assuming I didn’t actually want more water or a dessert or need anything else. Except that I did want more water. I was just too tired to override the default script my brain had settled on and by the time I realized what had happened, she had disappeared into the kitchen.

Not a big deal. Someone else came around and filled our water glasses a short time later. If they hadn’t, I could have just told the waitress I’d changed mind and would like some water. 

Functional or Nonfunctional?

So does that make my scripting functional or nonfunctional?

“Functional language” generally refers to language pragmatics or the social function of language. It isn’t so much the opposite of nonfunctional as a way of describing a specific class of language. More simply, language is functional if it helps complete interactions like:

  • inviting
  • greeting
  • requesting
  • demanding
  • clarifying
  • refusing
  • agreeing
  • offering
  • suggesting
  • informing
  • giving advice
  • apologizing
  • complaining

In the context of autism, functional and nonfunctional are also used in the more colloquial sense too. Something is functional if it accomplishes a desired goal and nonfunctional if it does not. You’ll often read that echolalia is nonfunctional or stimming is nonfunctional or routines are nonfunctional. I’ve talked about the fallacy of these beliefs in the past. Just because something appears to be nonfunctional to an observer does not mean that it is nonfunctional to the person doing it.

Sometimes, however, echolalia or scripted language can be nonfunctional and I think it’s important for us to learn to spot those times, either in ourselves or in a loved one.

On the surface, my scripted (and probably echolalic) answers to the waitress were functional. She asked. I answered. She went away thinking that we’d completed a series of successful exchanges of information.

For me, however, it was a mixed bag. When the script lined up with my actual feelings, it was functional. It was also functional in the sense that it allowed me to reflexively “pass” in a situation that wasn’t high stakes. Not every social interaction is important. Sometimes the goal is simply to answer the other person so they’ll go about their business and leave you alone.

The alternative that night was repeated variations on this short yet uncomfortable exchange:

Me: I’d like an iced tea, please.

Waitress: Would you like sugar?

Me: No, I’d like it  . . .

Me:  [can taste what I mean but the word is nowhere to be found]

Me:  [wow, cannot even produce a word that is close or any word at all]

Waitress:  . . .

Me:  [clearly, this flaily hand gesture is not conveying what I mean, is my mouth stuck in this open position now? will this silence go on forever?]

Waitress: Unsweetened?

Me: Yes!

Scripting can grease the social wheels and I think those of us who have trained ourselves to pass will often unconsciously default to scripting or echolalia simply to conceal the fact that we can’t find the right word or we’ve lost the thread of a conversation. After all, there’s often subtle, unspoken social pressure to keep a conversation moving along.

Scripting becomes nonfunctional when an incorrect or inappropriate script is offered up automatically by a brain pressured to respond. When The Scientist observed that I was scripting with the waitress, but not with him, I knew immediately that it was because I don’t feel the same pressure to perform when I’m talking with him.

The waitress has other customers and her time at our table is limited. Whether it’s true or not, I feel like I need to come up with a snappy answer so she can move on and do her job. When I’m talking to The Scientist, I know that he’s used to my pauses and edits. m\My scripts naturally switch themselves off.

The interesting thing to me about my exchanges with the waitress was how automatic they felt. After I didn’t get my water, I knew what I’d been doing, but I still found it hard to stop. It was a bit like that moment of slow motion horror when you’ve dropped something and it hasn’t hit the floor yet. On some level I saw what was happening but it was simultaneously too late to do anything to stop it. Every single time.

Recognizing the Difference

Automatic scripting can be as harmless as what I’ve described here or it can be a serious impediment to communication. Imagine if instead of a restaurant I was at the emergency room and instead of a waitress I was talking to a doctor. Repeatedly scripting “I’m good” would be a nonfunctional and potentially dangerous form of communication.

There’s no hard and fast rule about whether scripting, echolalia and other atypical types of speech are functional or not. A big part of the equation is situational:

  1. Scripting and/or echolalia can be functional if the speaker’s words are aligned with what the speaker would like to express. If not, they may be nonfunctional.
  2. Scripting and/or echolalia can be functional if the speaker’s words are coded in a form that their listener understands, even if the literal meaning of the words does not relate to the speaker’s intended meaning. If the listener is unfamiliar with the coded meaning, the words may be functional for the speaker, but unusable on the listener’s part.
  3. Scripting and/or echolalia can be functional if they allow for low stakes interaction or connection, even in the absence of providing actual information. Not all functional communication is transactional.

When language is nonfunctional, it’s often hard for the speaker to self-correct. In my experience, nonfunctional language doesn’t happen by choice but as a kind of defense mechanism or a last ditch effort to keep the lines of communication open in some way, even if it’s an unreliable and potentially harmful way.

As The Scientist has learned to recognize when I’m defaulting to a nonfunctional type of communication that may be counterproductive, he’s increasingly become good at checking in with me. The simple act of pausing within a situation to say “Is  _______ what you mean (want/need/think)?” can be enough to take me out of my scripted or echolalia speech. And that’s a good thing, because too often my script isn’t matching up with my feelings or needs in those situations. I’m simply producing the easiest verbal responses to stay–or at least appear to stay–engaged.

Successful communication requires both a giver (speaker) and a receiver of words (listener). When two people know each other well, they often have lots of little in jokes and code words they use, which are mostly meaningless to others. Echolalia and scripting work much the same way.

If you have a family member who uses echolalic or scripted phrases to communicate, you may have the equivalent of a mental decoder that tells you that “put on your shoes” means “let’s go to the park” and “I want toast” means “I’m hungry.” The two of you may find it fun to interact by repeating animal sounds, playing with nonsense words or replaying scenes from a favorite movie or TV show. Sometimes functional communication is used to accomplish a task and sometimes it’s simply a way to say, “I’m here, I see you and I like spending time with you.”


If you want to read more about scripting, Ariane Zurcher has a terrific post today on the topic as well: Scripts – A Communication Bridge

67 thoughts on “Echolalia and Scripting: Straddling the Border of Functional Language”

  1. I do all this just as described. Thank you for posting!
    Though I have told you this more than once before: I am glad to read your posts; to know that someone (more than just you I can infer) does have the same sort of difficulties, the same sort of what I call survival techniques . By survival I mean, “get into, through, and out of a required or desired social situation.” How successful I may be, how functional, that can vary widely. But by surviving it, I get to go home. Where it’s safe, quiet, & my anxiety level goes down after a while. Unfortunately, in my head I replay social interactions – a sort of ‘track record’ for days to years after, especially the worst most stressful, disastrous or disfunctional ones.
    One of my children has a speech disability, and I do not like to talk much, so between the two of us “creative communicators” we have a very large system, a menu if you will, of sounds-not-words. This works extremely well for me and him/her as communication. We do not use them in public only at home.

    1. I like the idea of survival techniques. I’d never given much thought before to what functional can mean in terms actual communication vs. just getting through an unimportant situation without too much hassle. Both serve a function, but maybe not the function that our communication partner assumes.

      Replaying disastrous conversations! Yes. Reading your mention of it here made me realize that I seem to have stopped doing this, whereas I used do it rather obsessively, fixing and refixing bad encounters in my head. Not sure why it stopped being such a source of frustration or when.

      Your communication menu that you share with your child is exactly what I meant by language appearing to be nonfunctional to others yet having significant meaning between two people who can decode it.

    2. “By survival I mean, “get into, through, and out of a required or desired social situation.” How successful I may be, how functional, that can vary widely. But by surviving it, I get to go home. Where it’s safe, quiet, & my anxiety level goes down after a while. Unfortunately, in my head I replay social interactions – a sort of ‘track record’ for days to years after, especially the worst most stressful, disastrous or disfunctional ones.”

      This. This exactly.

  2. That’s why when I was a waitress I asked “sweet or unsweet”. Give them the word so they don’t hunt it down. I also learned to clarify what “half and half” meant. For most, it was half sweet tea, half unsweet tea. For one guy, it was half Coke, half Diet Coke. Imagine the look on his face when he took a sip after I returned his drink! And imagine my relief when he just laughed over the mixup!

    1. I didn’t know there was a use for “half and half” other than the stuff you put in coffee. But I see what you mean, now. I guess people would have been really surprised at what I brought them!

      Bless you for being specific and helping people out. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to get from sweetened to unsweetened but . . .

  3. I do the same thing in restaurants but I had never really thought much about it. It is just way I am and I really do want them to go away. And I see now that this scripted response happens anytime I’m questioned; at a restaurant, the airport, the movies, etc. And if I don’t have a script prepared I become anxious. Mild anxiety, but at the same time I am wondering why they can’t read my mind. I know they can’t…but I can wish, can’t I?

    1. Life would be so much easier if selective mind reading was possible. 🙂 Scripting can be really sneaky, it seems. I guess we learn to rely on it like a reflex in certain situations and then just don’t realize when it’s happening.

      1. “Sneaky” – that’s exactly it! Often when I’m in a social situation I find myself blurting things out and completely confused by why I said it. I tend to use other things people have been saying to automatically modify scripts, which means I don’t always notice that I *am* scripting. And then I annoy myself by saying the opposite of what I mean, and trying to explain that to other people.

  4. This is my son! It has always been impressive to me that he knows exactly what the other person “wants” to hear, regardless of the accuracy of the answer, and be able to answer it in split-second timing! He is 14 and wants nothing more than to be left alone, so whatever will make me go away is what is said–are you hungry? “no.” would you like to come with us to dinner? “no.” did you do your homework?” “yes.” “Do your feet hurt?” “no” (he could be rubbing a painful blister, but the answer is NO because a yes might lead to further interaction….). However, if I question the answer (really, that looks like a really painful blister…) he will often get very agitated–I said NO! So I’m not certain how to help him to past the immediate “non-functional yet functional” scripts that he lives on. He does this all the time in school, too, by the way, which makes him very compliant until he gets himself into something he really doesn’t like–then he becomes very upset and doesn’t know how to express himself because he doesn’t have other scripts?? By the way, I’ve learned more about my son by reading your blog than almost any other resource I’ve come across in years of searching! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment. I’m so glad the blog has been helpful to you.

      I have two suggestions. The first is read this if you haven’t already: – it goes into a lot of detail about what’s happening when I default to no. Since writing that, I’ve practiced different ways of figuring out and expressing what I want, to varying degrees of success. (I wrote a bit more about that here: Not sure if you’ve read either of those but the way you describe your son’s reactions is something I strongly relate to, so maybe they’ll have some insight for you.

      The second suggestion that comes to mind is to try to avoid yes/no questions if possible. If he’s rubbing an obviously painful blister, you could bring him a bandaid (or some other remedy) and just say, “When I have a blister, I find it helps to _______.” That way he doesn’t have to interact further if he doesn’t want to and whether he takes advantage of the remedy is up to him. I know that the typical social interaction is “do you have a blister?” . . . “yes” . . . “do you want me to get you a bandaid” etc but when you don’t really get language pragmatics, that all just looks like a lot of useless twists and turns on the way to the real point. 🙂

      Fourteen is a really hard age for everyone and I think most kids get monosyllabic, moody and withdrawn to some degree, so probably a big part of this is normal teenage stuff. However, it’s concerning that he doesn’t express his needs or wants in situations where he might end up in a bad spot, especially at school where you’re not there to recognize a faulty script. Have you ever talked with him about it? I’m not sure exactly what kinds of situations you mean (peer interactions, interactions with adults) so I’m not sure what type of replacement script would work best. There’s also the question of whether he’s recognizing early enough that a situation will go badly or if he can only sense that when it’s already started to become very uncomfortable. So possibly more than one thing that he could work on that would helpful. And now I’m rambling so I’ll stop.

      1. Thank you! I will read those posts. I’ve recommended your blog to his teachers and therapists, by the way, to help them to understand him better. And, yes, I realize that as a mom, I have my own script that I need to revise (I have three other kids who tell me that on a regular basis so–OK, message received!). And, yes, 14 year olds who grunt aren’t necessarily having communication “issues.” I also get that 🙂 He seems to be better at communicating more honestly with peers than with adults. With us, he wants to do what he’s told (or expected, or anticipates) so that we will not bother him any more than necessary. My biggest issue now is that people want me to have him “take the lead” on things (therapy, OT, etc…). Talk to him about it, they say. Well, he doesn’t want to talk and his lead would lead to being left alone with no interventions at all–him and his computer. I feel like I’m parenting on a tightrope.

        1. I totally understand your frustration and it sounds like you’ve thought this through a lot. Maybe taking the lead has to start slowly, like “do you prefer A or B?” rather than the wide open “what do you want?” Since he only has A or B to choose from, hiding out in his room with his computer isn’t on the menu. 🙂 Decision making and advocating for yourself are really hard things to learn (even for me, still, as an adult this is true), but also really important for kids on the spectrum to start getting the hang of while they still have their parents around to offer lots of guidance and clean up the mess when they screw up.

      2. The whole ‘here’s a bandaid’ concept is a good one because it takes the thinking out of it. The only thought he needs then is ‘do I want the plaster on?’ and that’s a whole lot simpler than the ‘do I want a plaster? If I say yes which path will that take me down? If I say no where does that go?…..’ thought process that can be pretty damn exhausting. Sometimes the simpler it can be the better.

  5. Another thought provoking insightful peice of writing. Thanks.
    I script alot to stay in control and minimise the conversation in resturants, fuel stations etc.I think because I have made up my mind how I want it to go and thats it end of story.
    And it rarely goes well if I break script. I tried it in a supermarket the other day and the wife said I came across as bored and barely tolerating of the cashier. I just could not break away from my script with any conviction.
    I thought I did reasonably, but from other experiences it could have been worse.
    Cannot seem to win in those situations, although as a final thought not having a melt down is a win.

    1. Not having a meltdown is definitely a win! Scripts for everyday, noncritical interactions seem like a necessity. I mean, even nonautistic people do that with things like “how are you?” etc. Not sure what the point of getting all fancy and freestyling would be anyhow. Stick with what works! 🙂

  6. This is very illuminating, and very well written.
    My family kind of does this, in a way. Someone will say something or do something that will spark a memory of a movie line or tv show line and an entire conversation will occur based solely on lines from movies, jumping from one movie to another effortlessly. Because we all watch the same stuff, we can understand each other whenever this happens.

  7. I do this at work, and I do it when I’m feeling stressed – to get out of a situation/to take the pressure off – like, I’ll automatically say that I’ve got/understood something, it’s almost like a reflex, I can’t stop myself. Then a minute later I’ll be ‘squirming’ about it because I’ll need to go back and ask a question – but then can’t do that! It’s incredibly frustrating. Thanks for the insightful post and a great slow motion description of what it feels like/what’s going on in that second of time.

    1. Maybe a script for those times when you need to go back and clarify? You could always phrase as “now that I’ve started working on this, I have just one thing I’d like to confirm/clarify . . . ” or something similar. I know how intimidating that kind of situation can feel though. Ack.

  8. Scripting is just easier. I remember years ago when I was out on an audit job at a client and the client offered us a cup of tea. ‘How do you take it?’ she says. Now you’d think that was easy but I proceeded to have a blank, where have I put the script moment and plucked the first, appropriate response I could think of out of my head. ‘Milk and two sugars please’. Only problem was that I hate sugar in my tea! So not only did I have to cope with a hideous cup of tea (and nowhere to pour it away) but I then had to make sure I had a better, correct, script in place for the next offer, which coped with the possibility of her assuming I always took sugar. I think ‘I’m good’ would have been a better answer then 🙂

    1. Milk and two sugars sounds like me! But strangely it’s tricky with tea in Canada. Many of us know how to make tea properly but some wouldn’t know a proper cup of tea if it hit them in the head (not that that is the right way to take tea either :/) But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I always end up giving people the third degree before I’ll even consider saying yes to tea which ends up coming across as really fussy. I often don’t even get to say “milk and two sugars”. 🙂

    2. Oh no! That sounds like a really uncomfortable social situation. It’s funny how many of us are just tossing out random scripts before we’ve even processed the question. I wonder how much of this is related to auditory processing delay and trying to compensate for that in stressful situations?

  9. I have some scripts but also sound effects that luckily my husband understands fairly well. He usually understands what I’m trying to say when I use “choomp” or “Whoosh” as explanations although he often used to comment that I was the only person he knew who did this. Someone above mentioned using non-word-sounds to communicate.

    Both of our children picked up this quirk of mine. I have only just started thinking about this in the context of autism.

      1. Choomp means… sort of truncated… I guess? I use it in a variety of situations but most commonly it goes like this:

        Husband- “How do you want me to chop the vegetables?”

        Me- “Like choomp!”

        He seems to understand.

        Whoosh usually implies, suddenly overwhelming in a good or exciting way. usually positive. I use it descriptively. “The colours of the leaves were like whoosh.”

  10. Could you explain exactly what “scripting” means? I’ve seen it mentioned in a number of places, but I can’t find a definition. (I did a Google search, but it gave me lots of links saying things like “how to stop your child scripting,” which I don’t want to dignify with a click.)

    I do a number of things with words, but I’m not sure which (if any) fall under this category:

    1. I rehearse what I’m going to say in my head beforehand, word for word, over and over again. I spend hours doing this. I find this useful for things I’m going to say or write, but slightly less useful for conversations, as other people are often a bit inconsiderate in not following the playscript I have devised!

    2. I have down-pat answers for certain questions like “how do you take your tea?” which I always repeat using exactly the same inflections and hand gestures (although if I’m caught off guard, I have been known to order the completely wrong thing too).

    3. With my good friend, I have a lot of code phrases for stressful situations, like “I’m getting really stressed about this now” which means “I’m about to go into meltdown.” If I need to say sorry or repair the relationship (or I just want assurance that we’re ok, or sometimes I just want to say “I like you”), I’ll go through a long series of “do you remember the day we did X? Do you remember the day we did Y?” My (NT) friend has worked out what his expected response is, so he always sticks to the script too! It’s almost like a ritualised transition from “not ok” to “ok.”

    4. When I’m overloaded, I do a thing I’ve come to think of as ‘verbal stimming’ where I repeat a phrase over and over again, either in my head or out loud (and sometimes out loud when I think it’s in my head…). I do it with animal noises, theme tunes and other random sounds too. Sometimes I use a phrase I’ve heard on the TV, but more often than not it’s a phrase of my own devising. It’s not really about the meaning of the words, more about how they ‘bounce,’ if that makes sense.

    5. When I was in my early teens, I had a long-running kind of radio play in my head, featuring a number of different characters who all had different voices and regional accents. I would repeat their conversations, out loud, for hours. Sometimes I would create new scenarios for them, but often I would just repeat the same chunk of dialogue. They weren’t imaginary friends or multiple personalities or anything – I knew they weren’t real – and I didn’t really care about their characters or emotions or the events of the plot (if indeed there were any); it was all about the dialogue itself. Looking back, I wonder whether I was intuitively trying to train myself in social interaction, because I think some of those much-repeated dialogues did spill over into what I said to real people in real conversations – where, presumably, they didn’t make a great deal of sense!

    (P.S. I landed on your blog as part of my ‘I think I might be autistic’ journey. I found that list of female ASD traits really useful; and having read what I have just written above, I think we can all see which way the swingometer might be pointing….)

    1. Welcome to the blog! Your very detailed list suggests that you have lots of autistic traits, yeah. 🙂

      Scripting is basically having and using ready made speech. For example, I have an “ordering coffee” script and a “meeting a new person” script and an “at the doctor” script. Your #1 above sounds like the textbook definition of scripting, in fact, as does #2.

      There’s also echolalia, another common autistic speech trait, which is the repetition of speech, either immediately or at a later time. What you describe in #4 is a kind of echolalia (and also stimming). #3 also sounds like a kind of echolalia if you repeat the same sorts of speech in each situation. Echolalia and scripting are both shorthand forms of communication that allow us to navigate situations where producing spontaneous speech is hard. I hope this is helpful – I really should have defined scripting somewhere in the post!

      1. “Your very detailed list suggests that you have lots of autistic traits.”

        Do you mean the *contents* of the list suggest I have autistic traits, or the fact that I have sorted, categorised and numbered what I wanted to say? (I’ve always thought of that as just something I do which is perfectly logical, rather than particularly autistic.)

        I can’t quite tell whether you think it is a detailed list, or whether you’re making fun of me a bit. Usually when people say to me “thank you for that very detailed answer/speech/email,” I half-suspect that what they’re really saying is, “actually, three words would have done…”

        1. Literally both! 😀 And I’m not making fun of you at all. Oh gosh, definitely don’t take it that way.

          I was being totally serious in observing that autistic people (myself included) are often really good at making detailed, categorical observations based on pattern recognition. I have a very similar (though much longer) document in progress right now in my Google docs file regarding my language problems and both of the doctors I showed it to looked at me like I was a bit loopy so I totally understand your last sentence.

          1. Thank you. I’m sorry if I came across a bit over-sensitive; it’s just that so often I say things which seem totally acceptable in my head, and then they turn out not to be, so it makes you a bit paranoid after a while. Well, maybe you know the feeling…? 😊

  11. This post made me laugh!:). I (Autistic) was in the ER with my husband (more Autistic) the other day, and found myself interpreting for him to the staff.

      1. That they are, and the staff is always so curt! I’m an LPN, so I understood what they were saying, but they had to explain some things for me, as med/surge is not my forte.

  12. I have a unrelated question. I have heard of autistic seizures…do you get them? I am unsure if I do…and if I do wouldn’t they be more serious? I always thought it was from my fibromyalgia but now I am not so sure…sometimes I will jerk…my whole body will jerk or convulse while lying down and I did not tell it to. When this happens it can either go on over a span of an hour ( if its really bad my husband holds my legs down) but most times it only has a few convulsions and then its done. It only seems to happen when I am really ill or really tired or sore.
    It feels kind of like a sneeze. Before hand I can feel it twitching and I feel kind of miserable for a second, then it convulses which is weird, and then after for a few seconds I feel better and it either happens all over again or I go back to normal…just like sneezing…( I always feel better after sneezing even if it hurts but the relief is short lived) It’s kind of like sneezing for my muscles. Does that make sense?
    It rarely happens. Last year it happened a lot to me…at least 3 times a month. This year it has only happened an average of every four months or so. Is that what people mean by autistic seizures or are they more serious. I have never wanted to ask a doctor as I will feel foolish. I don’t think they would get it and it does not happen enough to feel alarming nor does it ever happen when I stand. ( sometimes when I sit)

    1. I think I know what you’re talking about and I think I do experience it. I get this thing where it feels like a little tingle at the base of my brain/top of my spine and then my whole body will give an involuntary shudder (exactly like sneezing – an unavoidable physical impulse with no apparent cause!) and then it passes. It feels like an electrical storm maybe?

      It only happens once for me and then I feel better – haven’t experienced the repetitions of it that you describe. I also only ever experience it when I’m standing (hadn’t considered this before) and it doesn’t bother me to the extent that I feel the need to bring it to a doctor’s attention either. It’s very intermittent for me. It might happen two days in a row or it might be months between occurrences. Really interesting.

      I used to think that everyone experienced this thing (not sure what to call it) but once I started asking people, I couldn’t find any other nonautistic person who experienced it.

      I don’t know if it’s seizure activity but in researching it, i came across similar descriptions and some were referenced as seizures. I also think I might experience occasional absence seizures based on people describing to me how I was “staring intently” at something but having no memory of the thing I was supposedly staring at or feeling as if I’d lost a small bit of time during which I wasn’t entirely consciously controlling my actions/thoughts.

      There are all different kinds of seizures from very minor almost unnoticeable ones to seizures that leave the person feeling very ill for a long time afterward. There’s a higher incidence of seizure disorders in autistic people and I think the types of seizures vary, so it’s hard to answer your last question conclusively.

      1. Interesting…This makes me feel better…I think that is probably what I am experiencing too…And you are right…none of my non autistic peers experience it. None…its the oddest thing…I also could we relate when you talk about the occasional absence – I never thought of it like that! Now I am very intrigued and will have to keep my eye out more for my behaviours!:)

      2. Wait … that’s a thing? I mean, other people have that thing where it tingles and you shudder after, too? And this may be an autistic thing?
        Sorry, not very coherent.
        Was looking through this post to remember my example of scripting for a letter to my lawyer who needs as detailed descriptions of anything and just saw this and now my brain rebooted.

      3. KMarie’s post seems a bit more severe than what you describe…

        The phenomenon described here occurs in most people, regardless of whether or not they fall on the Spectrum. I grew up surrounded by nonautistic people that experienced it, and it was even referenced in the book “To Kill a Mockinbird”. This post has people debating the origin and sharing their personal accounts:

        Also, the original blog post was awesome. I love the discussion it created.👍 Keep up the good work.

    2. So glad you mentioned this. I have also experienced this semi-regularly. I was also unaware that not everyone does this. It happens intermittently, usually while lying down. I sometimes wake myself in this manner.

  13. Reading this made me cry. I recently started a customer service job and I have become acutely aware of how I use echolalia and scripting that I wasn’t aware of before. It can get frustrating when I can’t find the words needed to communicate effectively with a customer or a co-worker and I get so worried I’m “outing” myself as “different.”

    1. I know, it can be so hard when you feel pressured to pass, especially at work. If it’s any consolation, I think most people use some form of scripting for their work. Sales people especially, but certainly lots of other types of jobs as well.

  14. Could you explain exactly what “scripting” means? I’ve seen it mentioned in a number of places, but I can’t find a definition.
    The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has a fairly good explanation of scripting.
    (I did a Google search, but it gave me lots of links saying things like “how to stop your child scripting,” which I don’t want to dignify with a click.)
    I don’t blame you. Not to worry, a diary of a mom has a post explaining how to ‘stop’ someone scripting by joining in with them, then extending the script when the Autistic individual indicates they’re ready.
    Hope these help!

  15. I love your blog! This is fantastic. I work with autistic students who are also special needs. I found your blog because I was searching for info about echolalia. My students are not using scripts, though, so it may more accurately termed auditory stimming. They are making sounds sometimes related to words. My current student’s stimming often sounds like it used to be a word at one time or another. Do you know where I can get more information about this? Thanks!!

      1. No I didn’t. The behavioral specialist at the school says he makes the sounds because they probably “feel good” to him. That’s all the info I’ve gotten. I just find it so fascinating how the words morph into sounds. Interesting.

  16. This reminds me of the time I was hit by a car a year ago. I kept telling people I was okay. I had to have people convince me to call my girlfriend. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the hospital if people there hadn’t convinced me. At the hospital I kept smiling and telling people I was okay. Sometimes doctors asked me if something was hurting and I would say no before I got a chance to think about it.
    I do script alot in my regular life. When people ask me how I am I always respond with “I’m okay, how are you?”. Then later if I’m not feeling okay I feel like I have to hide it because I already said I was okay. I’ve started trying to train myself to think about how I feel before I answer. It tends to come out as “uhhhh…” shrug “how are you?”. Also not that functional.

  17. I hadn’t realized that there’s a word for this. The article describes a very basic form, but a person may also develop way more complex models, rotating through validated replies to subsets of input (ie, what other people say).

    It doesn’t touch on some of the complications of this mechanism that I’ve encountered in my life. For example, developing language while watching sitcoms on TV in the late 70’s & early 80’s, I observed laughter (validation) in response to situational humor, often saying the worst or dumbest thing possible to get the laugh. That works with an audience that has a “laugh now” sign that lights up on cue, not so much in real life. Thus a really odd and often ineffective sense of humor developed after years of false validation had reinforced the behavior. Similarly, repeating jokes that got laughs in real life without understanding the context or meaning has gotten me into trouble after going back, thinking it out, and picking up on values that I don’t consciously support. At this point, I try to just speak very simply and avoid humor – it seems to project a sort of “Stuffy” persona, but keeps me out of that kind of trouble. I still revert to the occasional slapstick, a carefully timed fake trip to draw a laugh. Note to others – trying to break the fourth wall and address “the camera” by turning in a random direction to give an aside is disruptive to the average conversation.

    I’ve observed this manifest in others with emotional postures as communication, I would guess after having similar false validation from years of watching dramatic media. The individual would quickly cycle through overly pronounced demeanors (sardonic, shocked, dejected, enthusiastic, etc.) to accompany what appeared to be scripted replies in order to contribute to conversation. Again, this is completely speculative, but I suspect that while observing and mentally recording the scripts, the body language and tone of voice was included as an essential piece to effectively communicate the idea. Jarring to observe, but ultimately gets the point across.

    The problem with this linguistic approach is that it limits the individual to what has been observed either first hand or in media, thus leaving them ill prepared for situations requiring idiosyncratic discourse. You can’t script an intimate conversation. Developing anything more than a superficial relationship would then become daunting and amplify any underlying social anxiety. It’s not insurmountable, but it’s also not insignificant.

  18. Is this a scripting error, or is this the common female belief that our needs are unimportant, and almost shameful to have met?

    I always felt, when I say “I’m good” or whatever my variant of “I’m good” is, this week, that I am too embarrassed to ask for anything,. Too ashamed to need or want anything, To take up their time just for my comfort.
    Surely they will appreciate me more if they see I don’t request too much..

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