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