I’m Repeating Myself About Scripted Speech


Long before we had reliable scripts we had picture schedules.

Me: I’m going to take a shower.
Him: Carry on! (Pause) Do what you’ve gotta do, baby. (Pause) Was that the spirit?

I could almost hear him flipping through his mental Rolodex of proper responses.

I’m glad that scripted speech is finally getting its due in some quarters. It’s not that original speech is not valuable, it’s just that, in our experience, 99% of the time there is something to be learned from the use of scripted speech. It might sound random sometimes but it really isn’t. Even when it’s the same thing over and over (and over) it is still telling us something, if only that the brain is overstimulated and that a redirect is required.

And really, the rest of us use scripted speech all the time. The internet thrives on scripted speech. What is a meme if not scripted speech repeated endlessly? Clickbait headlines? Scripted speech. YouTube clips? Scripted speech. Pop music? Scripted speech. It can be the fastest way to get an important idea or emotion across. Still, I understand that the autistic person’s use of scripted speech comes from a different place and has more layers than our often lazy use of slang and movie references. It’s like arriving at the same destination via completely different routes; you’re glad you understand each other but don’t assume you arrived at your mutual understanding in even remotely the same way.

Anyone who tries to write for a living knows that it involves the selective use of scripted speech to hold the reader long enough for new ideas to break through. Original speech is the real challenge, and that is what good editing accomplishes. But I’ve also learned that if I try to edit my speech while speaking, it will make him intensely frustrated almost immediately. It is not only necessary that we understand his scripts but that we use them, when possible, to convey our own ideas to him.

I suppose my point in bringing this up again is that I find that even as I am more accepting of his use of scripted speech, it has now reached a point at which I am not sure if we have trained him or he has trained us in its proper use. After all these years it’s easier to identify the scripted speech and to know when it is leading us away from a happy place, but is it easier because we have been doing it for so long or that he is getting better at making his needs clear?

The challenge in this transitional period is to step back and see how obvious those distinctions might be to the new people who will soon enter his life. His current supports are so nuanced and so well established, we don’t really know how much work there is to help him master a language of self advocacy. This process of helping him maximize those skills is, I think, the key to a successful transition. It will be hard for me to step away from the role of interpreter. I’m already making a mental list of the phrases that signal anxiety and at this point I’m not sure if they are his…or mine.

Waking up in the Dark

img_8055It’s January for real. School program is back in session. We wake up in the dark. Without my permission, my mind now looks at every routine as something that will change soon, and weighs whether that is a good or a bad thing. At 6am, everything is a bad thing…except then I realize maybe 6am won’t be the wake up time any more. File that one away. For no particular reason I am glad the Christmas lights are stored away. Nothing more depressing than Christmas lights after Christmas.

The phone rings. The driver reports that the street is too icy for the van to come any closer. We can’t even see the van or its headlights. Winter, by New England standards, hasn’t even gotten started yet and we have had more van troubles than even the epic snowstorm years. There’s already been one morning when a crew was required to get it unstuck. It’s considered safer for us to walk down the icy street in the dark than for the damn van to try and make it to our house on our road, which is newly paved but was poorly graded when the street was built. The current driver is risk averse but very nice, and he inches the van into view so his headlights can light the way. The designer of the Econoline van clearly lived in the south, because they could not perform worse in winter conditions and yet we all pile our precious people into them.  “A tin can on wheels,” one of our more adept drivers calls them.

In previous years we have had braver drivers, better vehicles and a more attentive and skilled plow company. We can only hope that next winter brings better transportation arrangements, but the odds are very much against it. Adult transportation services in semi-rural suburbs such as ours are practically non-existent. It is a bureaucratic and funding quagmire that is legendary among bureaucratic quagmires. I attended a transportation conference last spring that was designed to address just this issue – in the age of Uber and Lyft surely someone is looking at the big picture. Um, not exactly. Regions, cities and towns are coming up with their own solutions, some better than others. Still, the conversations are happening and many experiments are underway. My job is to figure out where our town is in the process and try to move things along, as it were.

It doesn't look like the driveway from hell, but to some it is exactly that.

It doesn’t look like the driveway from hell, but to some it is exactly that.

Out and about on this rainy, icy, miserable day, I see an older woman making her way down a treacherous sidewalk. She is wearing a heavy wool coat and has a plastic rain scarf on her head, the kind that unfolds like an accordion. She’s pushing a wire shopping basket. I feel guilty zipping by in my warm car as she bumps along, and I wonder how people find themselves so suddenly in her shoes, in the rain, in the cold and it strikes me that I know exactly how that happens and that this is why I am obsessed with the transition. But this particular person strikes me for another reason. Even though I cannot see her face, I have known and been curious about women like her – kind, patient and determined. I think of one from my childhood in Iowa, Evelyn, who was a nurse who survived the Bataan Death March in 1942. She haunted the back of our church and brought our family bags of walnuts she had gathered from her yard. When the Beatles released Eleanor Rigby, my mother said the song reminded her of Evelyn. She is one of so many people I wish I had been brave enough to know better.

In the meantime, I resist the urge to ask my teenaged companion if he wants to live in this town forever (I know that answer anyway), if and when we should sell the house, and whether he really needs to go away to college. For once I am grateful for the Metallica blasting from his earbuds.

Breathing deeply, I remind myself that we can only make one decision at a time (mostly) and that no decision can or will last forever, so I should stop planning for decades and settle on planning for months. I’ll never stop thinking about the decades but for now just getting home and having lunch will have to suffice.

Getting home and having lunch. Sounds like a routine we can keep.

The Transition Year is Here

Christmas is over; time to move on.

Christmas is over; time to move on.

And so at last we embark on the year of Turning 22.

I keep a transition notebook to help me track the details and events that I need to know and remember. Today’s entry is rather unexpected. As our boy reveled in the Piston Cup and Radiator Springs setups that yesterday supplanted the Christmas Tree, he called out to me:

“I have a good feeling about this year. I think everything is going to work out fine.”

This is a moment for which every parent hopes. It is beginning to dawn on me that it marks the first of many role reversals between us.

Bring it on.