When we were going through various diagnostic sessions with Finley, one question that came up again and again was if he was “scripting.” This is a term that is thrown around enough that if you search for “scripting autism” you’ll get helpful results on Google (though “scripting” by itself is apparently more associated with programming on the Goog). To sum up the term, scripting is like a verbal tick when someone repeats lines verbatim, typically from TV shows or movies they like.

We all do this to some extent. I know I fight from belting out “It’s the Final Countdown” when someone starts ticking a timer closer to zero, or regurgitating lines from shows when it fits in oh so well. I once shouted “Steve Holt” to a student who introduced himself as Stephen Holt, because that’s what any sane person would do (He had neither seen the show nor was amused by my reaction, which made me question humanity). For those on the autism spectrum, though, this can be taken to an extreme, often used as a social coping mechanism rather than evidence of consuming too much media.

For Finley, his scripting focuses on the informational shows he watches. Our recent travels and schedule upheaval made it more pronounced than usual. When we were driving up the Las Vegas Strip to show him the sight of the MGM Grand fire from the 80’s, an obsession of his thanks to Modern Marvels Engineering Disasters, he started repeating the entire episode almost word for word.

For the next ten minutes, we were all treated to a Discovery Channel script of why the casino and deli were exempt from sprinkler regulation, how the fire reached what is known as flashover, why the fire escapes became death traps, and how the other sprinklers in the building stopped the MGM Grand from burning down from top to bottom, side to side.

Oh, also there’s a line in there from one of the fire fighters about the sight of the fire looking like an a-bomb, which has become a favorite of Finley’s.

I know it’s a coping mechanism that should be minimized in every day speech, but I couldn’t help but be impressed. How many six year olds can tell you about flashover, why it happens, and how it can be prevented in modern hotels? What’s more, he actually stores the data somewhere in that labyrinthine brain of his, pointing out our own lack of sprinklers in our home and the potential dangers caused by not being prepared.

On the flip side, it also makes other adults see him as more developmentally progressed than he actually is. This kind of behavior evokes the movie stereotypes of Rain Man, where many insist that his neurological tick is evidence that he’ll be an engineering savant.

We humans love our inspiring movies of weird people battling through challenges to become useful to the typical masses. Just take a look at the combined Academy Award count for films like Forrest Gump or Aviator. They make a great story. Maybe Finley’s social difficulties will be an interesting footnote when they create his “based on a true story” biopic about how he became the next Bill Gates or Howard Hughes. A surprising number of people I meet not familiar with autism seem to assume that’s the inevitable end result here. If that’s what happened, I’d certainly cheer on his success.

That, however, is not the norm. His quirks are part of his brain trying to cope with several dead areas that were ravaged by hemorrhaging at birth. It’s as much of a disability as so many visible struggles others fight with day after day. Maybe it’ll help him see the world in a unique way that changes how everyone works. Or maybe he’ll just be that weird kid that gets us yelled at by random parents at a play place.

Either way, it shouldn’t really matter. He should have a place in society, and he’ll certainly always have a place in our family.

Best of all, we’ll be some of the most informed people in the world as to the causes of one of the most tragic hotel accidents in American history.