This is going to sound terrible….
When an onslaut of good things happens to someone all in one day, you tend to get pretty excited. It’s not uncommon to use the phrase “This is the best day of my life” in your excitement. Why is it that I am not allowed to use that phrase in reference to literally anything but the birth of my children? Older females are the worst about it too.
“This is the best day of my life”
“You mean besides the day your children were born….”
No. I don’t. Because let me tell you something…I’ve had a lot of “best days of my life” WITH my children, but the day they were born is not counted amongst them. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. I was in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was blood and fluids everywhere, I was exhausted, mentally and physically, I was hungry, relieved, proud, but I would not classify this as a “best day”. The day I watched my girls take their first steps? Absolutely! The first time they called me mama? Yes! Watching their tiny fingers twirl my hair while they ate? Yes! Not the day they were born. I hate that this is such a thing right now, and I hate that I can’t experience anything good without being shut down because I am a mother. Someday VERY soon my children are going to have their own lives, and if they were my ONLY source of excitement, pride and accomplishment, what will I have when they are gone? Yes the are the main source of these emotions, but let me have my moment for myself too. Because I am not ONLY a mother. I am a mother FIRST among other things. I will always be a mother first. But those other things are going to come into play someday too. Stop. Let me feel joy.
Scripting means having ‘scripts’ in your head of how a conversation will go, usually involving both your side and the other person’s side of the conversation. This means that it should be predictable and common.
Scripting, therefore, is based on popular use of that script; i.e. most of the people around you speak like that.
Therefore, to create your script, you collect data from around you, listening to conversations and identifying patterns that arise (and we are good at that!)
And then, you use this tentative script yourself, testing it out and seeing how people react to it, and making modifications and smoothing it out.
Your script will likely change with time.
Most importantly. your script will become more automated with time, and it will take less effort to remember and use it in conversation; thus, you will have succeeded in making conversation more natural and effortless. It will become a habit, and you will unconsciously be able to express yourself and your true opinions comfortably.
So, if your aim is to become better at basic conversation, especially small talk (if it isn’t, this doesn’t apply to you), be patient and keep trying. Hard work never betrays. It will take time but it will happen.
Think of it as a self-improvement project with no deadline, using the scientific method of data gathering, refining, testing out your hypothesis and tweaking. A little effort regularly will add up and give results.
I define NT scripts as stereotypical and common responses we see NTs use in daily life. This includes greetings every day “good morning how are you” “I’m fine thank you, and you”, small talk “how was your holiday?” “did you watch the game last night”, and reaction to events “oh no that sounds terrible” “get well soon” “i’m sorry for your loss” “congratulations!”
Truth be told, we have already assimilated some of these into our vocabulary.
Think about it; because we have seen, since childhood, that people say “Good morning” when they see each other for the first time every day, or “Hello” when they pick up the phone, we do that too, automatically. We don’t think about it. It doesn’t stress us out. We are not questioning it because we know it works.
(If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)
We know its purpose; for instance, saying ‘Hello’ when we pick up the phone lets the other person know that we have picked up the phone and that they can start talking. It is more polite than saying ‘What?’ and less confusing than trying to start a new revolution whereby everyone says ‘Good day’ when they pick up the phone.
My aim, is to encourage us to extend this thinking to other NT speech patterns. Small talk, reactions to events, et cetera. This way we can learn it without becoming stressed out or feeling like we are compromising ourselves. So, we should learn also, the reason – the purpose behind these NT scripts.
The main purpose, is habit. Automation. It is an automatic reaction to an event that frequently occurs in life. The human brain works on shortcuts (known as schemata and scripts). It takes too much energy to think up something new every time so it uses its pre-formed shortcuts (a lack of these shortcuts is the reason why, I suspect, it takes us longer to respond, and why we Autistics are so tired after social interaction.) It works most of the time, so NTs use it. In the event that it doesn’t work, then they can begin to think of a new, more suitable response.
For most NTs, when a loved one dies and someone says “I’m sorry for your loss”, that phrase itself is irrelevant. The meaning behind it is what helps them – the phrase signifies “I heard about your loss, I am extending empathy, I want you to know that I care.” (What is confusing to us is that sometimes even though we care, just because we don’t say it but we do things to show we care, the NT can misunderstand. This is because it is not what they were expecting. They were expecting to hear a declaration of your empathy. They did not see your visible empathy/care, so they think it is not there. It doesn’t always mean that they are ungrateful.)
I hope to introduce some NT scripts over time (though I’m sure most people already know them).
You: Hey, I heard you were ill, are you okay?
EXPLANATION: Of course they’re not okay, but asking “are you okay” is an irreplaceable cheat code in any case where someone is hurt or might be hurt, physically or mentally. It means “you might be hurt and I care about you so I am checking up on you and hope you are well”
NT: no I am ill (insert description of illness etc)
EXPLANATION: here you can either keep asking questions to hear about the full story (the purpose of this is 1. you listening to them makes them feel that you care, 2. you are giving them your time = you care, 3. being listened to makes people feel better) OR! you can extend empathy and caring by using NT scripting
You: Get well soon (OR) I hope you’re feeling better / feel better soon
NT SCRIPT – are you okay?
NT SCRIPT – did you sleep well?
[ As someone with Autism, I see the Tuvok & Neelix relationship as one between an Autistic person (Tuvok) and a neuro-typical (Neelix). What we high-functioning Autistics endure from most NTs is what Tuvok endured from Neelix. The constant badgering, the cajoling, the “Come on, try it” and “Why don’t you act like me?” and so on. In this way, Neelix is really a bully in his own way. Though admittedly without malice. I don’t know how Tuvok doesn’t have a meltdown. I guess Vulcan discipline helps.]
Scene: You bump into an old NT friend / acquaintance on the street. A short (awkward) chat follows. The friend wraps up by saying “Lets meet up sometime”
EXPLANATION: two possibilities – the NT could really want to meet you again and continue to catch up OR they are saying it to politely end the conversation. How do you know? It depends. If they try to get your number / FB / set a date immediately then yeah they definitely want to meet up. They could also want to meet up and not do that. You don’t know. In that case the polite response is any variation of…
You: Yeah lets meet up sometime / Definitely! / I would love to!
EXPLANATION: Whatever the situation or your intention, the polite thing to do is to reply in the affirmative, so you both leave there feeling good. If you really want to meet up then you can actively try to set up another meeting. If you want to see whether the NT was being sincere, then you can wait for them to initiate contact and set up a meeting or to not do anything (which means either they are too busy OR they just said it to end the conversation.)
Dear Mrs X (I don’t want to embarrass you by using your name)
Let me just clarify why I am writing this. I normally hate things like this, they always feel passive-aggressive, and I don’t understand why people don’t address the person directly. The unfortunate truth is, I can’t address you directly, because that would involve me having to bring it up in our school playground, which would be both irritating (I wouldn’t trust myself to be able to say everything I want to without becoming a stuttering ball of frustration) . Much more importantly it would be embarrassing for my child. I will however, make sure I personally send you the link to this, so you can read it at your leisure.
A child in our youngest’s class reported ‘my mum said (Youngest) doesn’t have autism, he’s just attention seeking’. Then another parent also told us that the mother (that’ll be you) had directly told them the same thing, that our child didn’t have autism, they were attention seeking. There were more glorious pronouncements, but this is the one that made us, in goggle-eyed surprise and bafflement say “she said what?!” the most.
Just to clarify, you’ve spent exactly zero time with our child, apart from accompanying them on a class trip last week. I’m not sure you were even in my child’s group for that. You haven’t spoken to my husband, or me, apart from the minimal playground passing hellos, for years. Whilst we’ve not really kept a secret of the fact that our son has been going through the diagnosis process for the past 3 and a half years, it’s not something I ever recall discussing with you. Perhaps he mentioned it to your child. We’ve always told the kids that who they tell things to is up to them, but to remember they cannot untell something. Anyway, at age 6 he started really struggling with day to day life (partcularly at school), so we sought advice. Upon that advice, we started him down the really quite spectacularly stressful path of diagnosis, to see if what is called ‘high functioning autism’ explained certain things.
Imagine how much quicker it would have been if instead of countless paediatrician, occupational therapy, podiatry, school observations and primary mental health visits, we had just asked you. Think of the money you could save the NHS! During my own diagnosis, and that of my daughter’s, at no point in any of the numerous appointments did anyone mention that we might be ‘attention seeking’. Strange. Although I must have missed you gaining your qualifications that give you magical diagnostic powers, I do know that you work with children. So let’s talk about kids.
When a child wants to know why my child is doing something different, they simply ask him. He tells us. “X asked me how come I wear joggers to school, so I told him it’s because I can’t wear school trousers because they hurt my skin”. Inevitably, the other kid says “Oh right”, and wanders off to play lego or something. When a kid asked him on Friday “How come you do Big Maths* at home?”, he told him, “I get so worried about it it makes me sick and not want to come to school”. “Oh right” said the other kid, and apparently they shared stories of things that worried them, and ‘got’ it.
I wish adults could be more child-like. If you’re curious about my son’s diagnosis process or possible conditions, rather than vocalise your unpleasant opinion to other parents and your child, why not ask us? We know him pretty well. Ask us, we’ll ask him for you. He is the one who tells us quite often that he doesn’t want to wake up in the morning because he feels so ‘different to the other kids”. He is the one who gets so anxious that people will see he is different, that he gets tics that leave him crying because he cannot stop them. He is the one who can’t filter out his classmates noise, the smells, the countless sensory distractions, so he volunatarily goes and sits on his own on a table every day so ‘he can try to do his best work’. He is the one who when he is ill, over-stimulated or over-tired becomes synaesthesic. He is the one who lives with how he experiences the world every day. He’s really well qualified to answer. Ask us. I’d say ask him but, you’re an adult he doesn’t know, and he’s 9, quite private, and suffers from extreme anxiety. More to the point, he’s a small human being, just like your children. None of whom I’d think to speak of in the way you have spoken about my child. Would they want their personal information debated in such a vulgar manner? How would that make you feel? If you need to discuss it, ask us.
Child-like is good. Child-like asks questions, is inquisitive, genuinely wants to learn. When a child asks a question, it is an opportunity to educate. If a kid asks me, or my daughter or my son why we do something differently, it’s an opportunity to discuss divergence. By talking about differences, we can all understand them better and therefore understand each other better. To understand that people are not all wired the same, and this can mean we behave certain ways, and that is absolutely ok. Discuss what helps and what’s hard. I tell my children all the time that they are doing fine. You’ve got this, yes you don’t experience the world the way most people do, but that’s a gift in many ways. You are utterly you and amazing. Then I can hope that they don’t hear someone say something as childish as you did. Childish is not good. Childish is spreading playground rumour based on ignorance. Childish is mean spirited and selfish. Childish will have my children taunted in class. The difference in child-like and childish is very small in terms of letters, but light-years in terms of intent.
For over three years (that’s a long time when you’re only 9), my son has been too afraid to talk to his teachers and classmates about his difficulties, and what he worries about, and how the world appears to him. He is just starting to have the confidence to do so. Just. I can only really hope that he doesn’t hear ‘my mum said’ from your child, or the other children your child told, because that will squash that confidence flat. If you wouldn’t say something directly to my child’s face, let alone mine, don’t say it at all. A child could tell you that. You have your own children, you work with them. Be more like them, and instead of spreading ignorance, encourage them to ask what the truth is.
Incidentally, we recently (as in the last couple of weeks), had the specialist team’s findings on our son and their summary of his ‘neurological divergence’ that he will have, and manage for life. They are, given that you have no relationship to our family, and our children never see each other outside school, as you can imagine, absolutely none of your business. Does it matter? Our son is simply our son. Our funny, clever, kind, generous, imaginative son. But should you really need to know (I’m not sure why, given you are not involved in his schooling, his medical care, his family or social life), but if you do, please ask us before causing a 9 year old kid with enough to deal with more grief. We’re always happy to talk about autism and comorbid conditions with you at any time.
For more knowledge on high-functioning autism, may I recommend clicking here.
For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder, click here.
Here’s to enlightenment.
*Big Maths is a timed, ‘complete as many as you can against the clock’ weekly maths test. Also known by a more colloquiol expression in our house due to the anxiety, nausea, migraines and school refusal it induced every Friday for 2 years.
When someone compliments you, it is natural to sometimes feel undeserving of the comment, and doubtful. It is an opinion that doesn’t fit in with your worldview so you deny it. You say “No I’m not” and try to prove to the person why you don’t deserve that compliment.
But think about it.
If you think something nice about someone, like they are wearing new shoes, or they are good conversationalists or they are a wizard in the kitchen, you tell them the compliment because you want to share something positive that you have seen in them. You want to show your appreciation. You want them to feel good.
That is what the NT complimenter is thinking too! Neurotribes aside, humans are humans and we are still similar!
I have seen two differing opinions on whether you should just accept the compliment “Thank you,” or offer one back “Thanks, I like your shirt too”. I think, in the end, it is easiest to take the path that aligns with your personality more, and that makes you comfortable. Some people are comfortable simply accepting the compliment, and some might feel that they want to return compliments.
However, according to my theories on the NT state of mind, first, you must accept the compliment. The NT state of mind is “I am offering a token of goodwill, I liked this thing and I want to let the owner know that I like (and approve) of this thing, and they will be pleased, and I will be pleased”. Remember, NTs value emotions in their daily life, so pleasing someone and being pleased is a social ritual. Rejecting the compliment means to the NT that you are rejecting their goodwill, rejecting their opinion, rejecting their effort to please you and you are canceling out the goodfeelz
™, so now it’s a lose-lose situation that could have been a win-win.
Furthermore, it is preferable to compliment the person back, in a genuine way. It is still perfectly acceptable to say “Thank you” (and follow up with a conversation on the subject of the compliment, if you feel like it, or move on with your day), but it might be better to compliment the person on something on them that you see and you like, usually at the same level of excitement/intimacy of the offered compliment. What I mean is, if someone compliments your hair then you can compliment their shirt (appearance). If a friend compliments your hard work then you can compliment their kindness (character/personality). This is not a hard and fast rule but it is a start.
Note: there is another thing with NTs where when others repeatedly, consistently return a compliment whenever they get complimented (like a reflex), some NTs feel a little annoyed? But I think they feel this way when the compliment is perceived to be insincere (for example, while watching the person’s expression, a compliment that was obviously a struggle to say). No one wants to receive a compliment if the facial expressions or tone are screaming the opposite, it makes one feel belittled or made fun of, and hurts. If you can’t honestly find something to compliment then it is better to say thanks and move on.
(To add my own two cents, in my life, I don’t always agree with compliments, if I feel that I am not worth it. But I accept them all [or try to change the subject after saying ‘thanks’ when I’m having bad days], because you don’t have to attach such a huge meaning to every interaction. A compliment means that the other person thought this way about me, whether I feel that it is true or not. Self perception is not always accurate, and overall, I am simply grateful that the person took the time out of their day to please me, and so I try to keep up my end too.)