Social scripts: a play in one act

Or, what happens when a co-worker wants to ask you a question about something work-related but feels the need to have some chit-chat first.

hi, had a good weekend?

yeah sure, you too?

can’t complain, 2 nights north sea jazz and 2 birthdays on saturday

so yes 🙂

you done anything fun?

north sea jazz, great!

who did you see?

err… do you have an hour or two?


Friday Roy Hargrove, Diana Krall, Seesick steve
Sunday Nynke Laveman, Javier Limon, Marcus Miller, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, and Sting

all never seen before and all very awesome

and some bits here and there from other artists

yeah that’s how it goes at north sea, that’s what makes it fun 🙂


you’ve been?

i went when it was still in the hague but haven’t been to rotterdam yet

so it’s been a while

ahhh, i haven’t been for years either when it left the hague but it’s more fun than i thought even though ahoy [the venue, ed.] is so massive

so simply go 🙂

i had a question about that ftp issue…

What follows next is meant to be a funny explanation of how I process social cues, a bit like a fake anthropological article. It’s not meant to be taken 100% seriously although the tips and tricks will very likely work in real-life situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point? However, from some (non-autistic) reactions it appeared I was too subtle in my humour, that’s why I added this explanation. If confusion persists, I might have to resort to colour-coding the funny bits.🙂

I’ve developed my script for dealing with “how was your weekend?” because I noticed that answering truthfully wasn’t a socially acceptable option for me. Apparently neurotypical people get very uncomfortable when you say “I played computer games” or “I read a book” (well, actually 3 books).

Note the first strategy in line 4: deflection. Mostly, people who ask about your weekend do so for two reasons: because they think it’s the polite thing to do and because what they really want is for you to ask them about their weekend. So, deflect the question back to the other person.

Sometimes they don’t take the hint and will ask you again, as in line 10. In that case, deploy the second strategy: ask them specific questions about something they casually referred to in their first answer. In this case, I could have asked whose birthdays, and get them talking about their family or their friends. I picked North Sea Jazz because I have some specific knowledge about this so it’s easier to ask questions that will keep the other person talking. You can even volunteer some information but only do this if you’re absolutely sure about how it will be received. In this case, I mentioned I had been to North Sea Jazz as well because I know that people like having shared experiences (*). However, I didn’t mention that I stopped going because the crowds and the noise drive me bonkers. That’s too much information.

Keep on doing this until the other person gets to the question that prompted them to start a conversation or until they walk away. Neurotypical people don’t have hyperfocus and have a low boredom threshold so it usually doesn’t take too long. Good luck!

(*) Edited to add: This is only true for general locations or actions. If it’s talking about specific experiences that trigger an emotion within the NT, they will think you’re selfish for trying to focus the conversation on yourself. A safe course of action would be to keep on asking the NT questions or to only agree in short sentences like “Oh, me too!” or “I know exactly what you mean” when you’re not sure of the emotional content of the experience.

27 thoughts on “Social scripts: a play in one act

  1. “Apparently neurotypical people get very uncomfortable when you say, ‘I played computer games.'” That happened to me once! I was trying to be more me, so I said those exact words in response to “how was your weekend?”

    Needless to say, there was awkward silence for one very…long….minute.

    Seems like it’d only work if the NT in question were very interested in computer games.

    • Isn’t it the strangest thing? I know exactly what you mean by awkward silence. Fortunately, I work in ICT where most of the guys spend their weekends doing the exact same thing. And they never ask me how my weekend was, which is such a relief. I mean, I like talking about things I’ve done but only if it comes up in conversation. This idea that you have to ask about someone’s weekend on Monday just puzzles me. But I’ve learned how to play along. 😛

  2. Amusingly, when I was a kid, I was told to stop being so self-centered in conversation so much that I overcompensated and by the time I went to uni, I wouldn’t talk about myself at all. I’d redirect after a one or two word answer. When I felt the need to relay an anecdote, I would choose a second-hand one someone else relayed to me rather than on of my own experiences.

    Someone I knew (herself a parent of two adults on the spectrum, who was one of the first to tell me she thought I was on the spectrum) finally took me aside and told me there was nothing wrong with relaying a first-hand anecdote in response to someone’s question about me – that if someone asked about me, it meant they were interested in me, not in my cousin or my father or whoever have you. I appreciated the tip.

    Me and my rules. “Don’t talk about yourself.”

    Okay, I won’t, even if the other person wants me to talk about myself! XD

    • But if you have no way of telling whether the other person really wants you to talk about yourself, that’s a very understandable response. Once burnt, twice shy.

      I learned the power of asking questions from a very outgoing and sociable friend. I noticed he never talked about himself at all, he kept people talking about themselves, which most people loved. And therefore they loved him! “Oh, he’s always so genuinely interested!” Well, maybe, but it’s also a neat trick to make sure nobody asks him anything. 😛

    • By the way, have you noticed that autistic adult commenters on several blogs do the exact thing as described in that article I linked at the end?

      Now here’s the interesting part. Over the past year, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who were recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, who are meeting other people with AS for the first time. I listen to them and I express empathy in this manner – and they all smile and say they feel heard and understood, often for the first time. They intuitively understand my intent, even though they may never have met another person with AS before. And every person with AS whom I’ve met expresses their empathy in the same manner. To an onlooker, the conversation looks like two people talking about themselves, alternating monologues. But what’s really happening is, we’re relating very deeply to each other’s experiences, sharing our own to create a common bond.

      I just think that’s awesome.

      • Yeah, I’ve had exactly those conversations, too! 😀

        I don’t know about anyone else, but for me it’s way of rejoicing in found kinship. I don’t have shared experiences with a lot of people, so when I find someone with whom I do have shared experiences, I want to share those experience and experience the kinship of being able to say, “Yes, I’ve done that, too!” rather than being told, “No, you don’t do that, and even if you do, it’s wrong.”

        • My “native” way of expressing empathy is exactly that: telling a story about a similar experience I went through. And I do nod as a way of expressing “please continue, I am interested in what you’re saying”. I still do not think I am aspie/autistic (though the more I read the more I think I am somewhere in the middle, not-NT, not-As), but this is exactly how I have always been. It never made sense to me why people would not understand that I am showing empathy. But I did learn to talk differently: I gradually learned to guess how the people feel, but usually I just ask in an open-ended way “did that make you feel angry/sad/disappointed?”. I am not ashamed to say I learned this from my time in therapy…

          Another thing that I do and that gets misunderstood _a lot_ (I only do it with close people, and my friends do understand as I explained it to them, but some of my family members don’t always understand; another family member does this even more than me, but I have some reason to believe he is an undiagnosed Aspie): I explain.

          Typical conversation:

          NT relative: “You did X (wrong thing) because you’re not paying attention to people/because you’re lazy/whatever reason seems to be the right reason to said relative)”.
          Me: “You are right I did X and it was not the best way to act. But I did not do it for that reason. I did it because (explanation, typically because it seemed the best logical way to act, and for some reason I did not know or did not pay attention to some information that I would need to have to know it was not the best way to act)”
          NT relative: “There you are again, justifying yourself. You never want to be caught having done something wrong. You will never learn if you keep justifying yourself.”
          Me: (typically silent, though sometimes I do say that I am just trying to explain what lead to what happened and trying to understand what can be done differently).

          I have learned that some people see explaining myself as not taking the blame, and I try to speak in a different way and avoid explaining, but if in an emotional situation I go back to what feels natural: explaining my whole thought process to the person so that we can “debug” the situation.

        • That’s really interesting XYZ, I do that a lot too (and usually get a similar reaction). It’s not about finding an excuse, it’s about analysing what happened so it (hopefully) won’t happen again.

        • XYZ….lol, your conversation with your NT relative is nearly identical to the one I’ve had with mine. At one point while I was at a restaurant, I freaked out due to feeling guilty about always not eating much and wasting all this food, especially since at that time, we were unable to take home any leftovers. I thought I was disrespecting the chef, and the extra bowl of noodles just sent me over the edge! There was too much guilt for me to handle. I guess in an NT’s eyes, it wasn’t the appropriate reaction at the right time and everyone thought I was making a big deal out of nothing. To be fair, I guess the reaction did seem pretty spoiled, and I even acknowledged that.

          Unfortunately, even though I tried to explain to my NT relative why I was freaking out many, many times during our conversation, she just kept insisting on me hiding the behavior and insisting on saying that it looked weird and like a spoiled kid to other people. It took me repeating my reasoning once again, a minor breakdown, and repeatedly asking, “So how do I deal with this?” for her to finally admit that she just didn’t know how to help me with this because she didn’t know what I was going through.

          I think-hope?-that many people really want to help you out, but sometimes, if they don’t know what to do, they’ll latch onto their personal experiences and a solution that’s worked for them before and use that. It’s not always the best method, though!

        • XYZ and invisibleautistic/Robin, I’ve had those conversations, too. Like when I’m talking over someone being angry with me with an NT relative.

          Me: I don’t get why ____ is mad at me.
          NT: Really?!
          Me: Yes, really.
          NT: You really don’t know why they’re mad?
          Me: No. If I did I wouldn’t be complaining I didn’t.
          NT: You said A, which implies B. It really was a backhanded insult. You were trying to embarrass ____. I don’t blame ___ for being mad. How did you think that wouldn’t piss ___ off?
          Me: Huh? I wasn’t trying to embarrass ____ at all.
          NT: Bullshit.
          Me: I wasn’t! And I don’t get how A implies B.
          NT: Really? You don’t get that [explanation of how A implies B]
          Me: Oh. OH! I didn’t mean it that way. I meant C.
          NT: Stop trying to justify yourself.
          Me: I’m not, I’m just saying I meant C, not B. But I get why ____ is pissed off now.
          NT: Saying you meant C is self-justification. You can never just admit you were wrong, you always have to make an excuse.
          Me: I’m not making an excuse, I’m clarifying what I meant. How would you say C? That way I won’t make the mistake again.
          NT: It’s not all about you, you know.
          Me: I know that. But if I don’t learn how to say C without implying B, I’m going to keep pissing people off. So how would you say C without implying B?
          NT: *eyeroll* I’d say _____.
          Me: Thank you.
          NT: If you spent more effort thinking about what you say before you say it, you wouldn’t need to ask.

          And usually at that point I just drop it because arguing that I do, in fact, need to ask and that I spend a great deal of effort thinking about what I say before I say it usually is taken as more evidence that I’m lazy and self-centered.

        • NT: If you spent more effort thinking about what you say before you say it, you wouldn’t need to ask.

          This, so so much this. It’s another version of “if only you tried harder” and “if you’re so smart, then why can’t you ___”. It doesn’t stop after childhood. It happens again and again.

      • This is so true – something I’m sometimes concerned about when I comment/reply. It’s so relieving to read that this is not only a thing, but a comforting thing because I’ve always found it to be so. It feels like a very autistic form of communication. 🙂

      • I over-censor myself as well. I was looking at my comment going “Bugger, did I validate enough, did I actually respond to the previous comment here or just go off on my own little rant?” and then I looked up the page and realised that the previous comment and the one before that were doing the EXACT same thing. And that those DIDN’T make me feel like nobody was responding to my story, but instead felt hugely affirmative and comforting and caring. So. Thank you all. 😀

        • Goodness, I am an NT and I feel bad for Ischemgeek and kinda want to thwak the NT relative. Seriously. That NT relative was annoying. Or maybe I’m just a weird NT? I don’t know. Because when I read that Autisticook read books over the weekend, MY first response was “what did you read? I read Mercedes Lackey (or whatever). Maybe we need a new classification – NTNT – a non-typical-neuro-typical? ; )

        • I’m proud of being an oddball. The autism is just a bonus for me. :p

          (This weekend, I finished “Only forward” by Michael Marshall Smith – awesome book – and started “Tale of Murasaki” by Liza Dalby).

  3. I’m slowly learning that people most often ask a social question like “how was your weekend” to get you to ask the same thing back. Like if they ask “how is your daughter doing?” they probably have some big news about their own kids to share. I’m still not so good about deflecting back but I’m trying to be more conscious of the “hidden”purpose of this kind of question and respond appropriately.Fortunately, my autistic friends just up and tell me how their kid, weekend, etc, is without the little song and dance.

    • I like how you say “social question” instead of linking it to a group like I did. Because the funniest moments are really when someone who I suspect of being on the spectrum (I don’t know any out-and-about autistics in person, sadly) asks me how my weekend was. And I deflect. And they deflect back, or get stuck on what they’re supposed to say. And then I go, “You weren’t really asking were you? Let’s just move on and talk about work or something” and we both laugh. 🙂

  4. Very good! I had so much trouble with the weekend question in my office job. Usually, there wasn’t a real question waiting by the end of it, it was undertaken in its own right, for example when queuing in the copy room. Like:

    Co-worker (sort of boss): how was your weekend?
    Me: good.
    Co-worker: good. what did you do?
    Me: ehm … not much really… [Thinking desperately, realising that what I did sounds totally nerdy and isn’t the right answer. What else did I do? something that sounds like a typical weekend activity, like going out or going on camping? but I didn’t…]
    Co-worker: just relaxed at home, watching telly?
    Me: eh… no… [I don’t watch TV, but saying that sunds like a political statement or somethink like that, as if I think watching TV is bad. But if I say yes, then he may ask me what I saw, and I have no clue what programmes are on TV so that may sound like I’m lying… which I would be in that case]
    Awkward Silence
    Me: how was your weekend?
    Co-worker: good. Had a barbie with a few of my mates. Nothing major.
    Me: sounds nice
    Co-worker: yeah.
    Finish task & go back to desk, feeling awkward…

    Seriously… I could have done with a script. I had never worked in an office before, except for a few days casually. I am (a bit) better at casual chatting now, but I didn’t learn it in the almost 2 and a half year I worked in the office. They just largely stopped trying after a while, understandably. Except my direct boss, who totally sucked at casual chats too and was hard to hear too (mumbling), but kept trying to have one with me everytime I was around (maybe practising? 😉

    It sounds like you really have your act together on that front… I really like your script, it is very useful to see a casual conversation example scripted like that. I don’t think I can be that proficient with entertainment facts ping-pong even now … but this helps.

    • Your convo sounds exactly like the thousands of convos I had before realising I had to come up with something better, because I hated hated HATED that question and the awkwardness and the mumbling and the looks of pity.

      The reason why it sounds so together though? My co-worker messaged me on Skype chat. I was cheating. Doesn’t matter that it’s written, the question still sends me flailing about for an acceptable answer. But afterwards I thought that I’d handled that one pretty well and it might be interesting to write about it.

      In person, I’m probably still a mess. But it really helps to practice.

    • I get that. Fortunately, right now I work with people who are either very BAPy or have autistic relatives, so only one asks the question at all and she doesn’t get all awkward if I say, “I tried out a new role-playing game, Shadowrun 5th ed. [monolog about the session].”

      And one of my other coworkers is himself a tabletop gamer who enjoys trying new systems, so he seizes on it and goes, “Wait, you have SR5? How’s it play?”

      And then if we’re not careful, we might waste our first 20 minutes of the workday chatting roleplaying games. 😛

      So no awkward NT-trying-to-save-me-from-myself moments like at my last workplace where someone kept trying to get me to go out to clubs with her, and also no creeper-old-dude moments like at the one before that where a coworker seemed to see I have a problem with reading people’s intentions and kept trying to take advantage by getting me into vulnerable situations. Fortunately, I’ve learned to avoid such situations even with people I trust or like, so nothing bad happened that time. But he scared me once I figured out that was what he was trying to do. Took a bit of talking it over with another coworker who warned me he had a Reputation as a major creeper.

  5. Pingback: When an “expert” acts like they know everything, run the other way | Spectrum Perspectives

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