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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

Autism and Movie Talk

(By Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht, originally published on Embrace ASD)

Autistic people—but perhaps particularly autistic females–learn how to camouflage/mask in order to fit in. One of the things we often use is movie talk. What is that?


Movie mimicry

Movie talk is a form of speech repetition. That’s when you repeat words you have heard another person say. It may appear like delayed echolalia, which is an unsolicited repetition of words based on another person. But unlike echolalia, movie talk is not done unsolicited, but with awareness and intent.

Basically, Movie talk is mimicking a character from a movie or series (or a book) as a way to present yourself as socially appropriate.

So by mimicking movie characters’ mannerisms and statements, we learn to socialize better, or at least to appear like we socialize well. We learn to camouflage the behaviours that make us stand out, so we more or less convert movie scripts into social scripts!

I came here to drink milk and kick ass.
And I’ve just finished my milk. (Maurice Moss)((Richard Ayoade: Maurice Moss quotes | IMDb))

Yes, Maurice Moss is amazing, but quotes like the one above are not the easiest to use in social interactions. And they are not particularly useful when it comes to trying to fit in.


Movie scripts

There are real consequences to camouflaging, including losing your sense of identity, which is described in the post below.

Masking: is it good or bad?

Learning scripts

Generally, learning more social scripts can be greatly beneficial in social interaction. But the challenge is that our “crystal ball” never gets any better at predicting how to deal with different social situations. For more information on our prediction challenges, read the post below:

Autism: a deficit of prediction

So we literally have to learn thousands of these social scripts, and apply them to similar or diverse social situations. We study movies, series, books, and real-life people to learn these scripts.

Gender scripts

Some autistic males use movie talk as well, but autistic females often feel more social pressure to perform. As a result, they are more likely to internalize all those scripts.

This is also part of the reason why so many autistic women remain undiagnosed; movie talk can camouflage autistic behaviour (especially in the social domain), so those who use movie talk well can often escape diagnosis.

I try to copy socially successful people by trying to imitate their speech and body language and trying to understand their interests. (Male, 71)((“Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions))


Becoming a character

Whenever I would watch a movie, there would always be two parts of me watching; one part would watch the script, and another part would watch how the characters acted and reacted.

Immersion

The imitation of movie talk can go further than just repetition of words though. For instance, some autistic people may mimic the words, while another autistic person practically becomes the character.

Some of us engage so completely in this that we imagine being a character, including their mannerisms and movements. We also unlearn the mannerisms, speech patterns, and other aspects of communication that fail in social situations.

Some autistic people even adjust their clothes to become different characters. One respondent to a study from 2017 by Laura Hull et al. said:((“Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions))

I camouflage by putting on a character… I treat my clothes rather like costumes, and certain items of clothing help me to uphold certain personality characteristics of which character I am on that occasion.

I have a repertoire of roles for: cafe work, bar work, uni, various groups of friends, etc. They are all me at the core, but they are edited versions of me, designed to not stand out for the ‘wrong’ reasons. (Female, 22)

Useful characters

There is a sort of natural selection of movie characters; we identify which movie talk and which characters are most useful to use in social situations. And along the way we also learn which characters and statements are… less useful.

So we are likely to copy confident characters like Angelina Jolie’s characterization of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Conversely, we would likely change any behaviours that look like Maurice Moss from The IT Crowd. Sorry, Moss! We love you, but you are not the person we should look at to learn social skills.

I would often find that I would become characters unconsciously. I no longer felt like myself, and I would be fascinated with my new mannerisms. Even my speech patterns may have changed.


Do you engage in movie talk?
What characters have you found to be useful to learn social scripts?

 

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8 Responses

  1. I literally just wrote a post about my movie going experience and how I get this feeling after seeing a movie about where I am living the movie world but a character in the world…it’s so hard to explain. And it would just come out in my interactions. It wasn’t until maybe the last 3-5 years I noticed no one else did this. Mostly cause my stress intensified, I had a kid and I have begun to see my autistic identity/sensory issues.

  2. I did this endlessly especially when I was younger. I still use clothing as a prop or camouflage. Love that you wrote this article spelling it out.

  3. Ha ha, now it’s all coming together, why I would take all those notes on movie lines and movie conversations way back when I was (a bit)
    younger!

  4. All too familiar and all too true. Many’s the phrase or script I’ve adopted over the years to get me through interpersonal confusion. I’ve had whole conversations that were entirely composed of quotes from movies, TV & books. Every now and again someone will recognise a quote in which case it’s time for the knowing furrow of the brow and the “well that only goes to prove the point” qualifier.
    I’m amazed at how many times I’ve got away with:
    “You don’t need to see my/the [insert noun}”
    “I’m/it’s not the [insert noun] you’re looking for.”

  5. Damn this was written about me. Both movie talk and movie character becoming. I watched Dallas Buyer’s Club in college and had a breakdown thinking I had turned into Mathew McConnohay’s character, wattle and all. And I movie talked to one of my male classmates in coding class and because it was semi-echolalia, I had forgotten I had said it – but funny story, it ended up inspiring my female classmates to stand up to the boys when they said misogynistic things.

  6. I often find myself engaging in movie talk, but mostly to myself when I’m alone. In my social circle, quite a few–if any–individuals are receptive to movie talk and dismiss it or deem it as immaturity, so I’m continuously masking in other ways (i.e., mimicking the mannerisms of the educated in the physical and film world). To be honest, I believe I’ve lost myself in masking that I don’t even know who I truly am anymore. I don’t know my true self, and that’s a bit disconcerting if you’d ask me. But at least I know now that what I’m doing is a normal reaction to socialization in an autistic female such as myself.

  7. I used dialogue from Magic School Bus and Transformers as a child, and slowly started integrating other media as I’ve gotten older. It always kind of felt like “trying on” character traits and mannerisms to see how I liked them.Though if something I tried fit or I liked it, it always felt a little less like masking compared to some of the other things I do to blend in. I wasn’t aware that this was a thing other people did or that it had a name until probably this last year, but it’s reassuring to see that this is something other people do.

  8. sometimes I do comedian talk, I will say something crass and over the top and can’t understand why people get offended because in my logic I have seen at least 50 comedians behave in the same way and get applauded for it. anyhow I just wanted to invite you to check out my blog. today’s post is about being misunderstood.

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