And now…some fun with Echolalia!
For a kid who “doesn’t talk,” my son uses his voice all the time. He chatters, sings, and repeats movie dialogue, computer game sound bites, and phrases from toys and books almost constantly. It’s called “echolalia” – for typical kids, it’s that joyous phase in a child’s language development that causes parents to pay careful attention to what they say within earshot of their children. And, for parents of kids on the spectrum, the pleasure of that parroting “phase” tends to last a much longer time….
My son’s verbal mimicking often seems disconnected from what is going on around him:
For a few months during his early elementary school years, he could be overheard reciting his school’s morning announcements, including various items on the lunch menu, reminders to “stand up and be counted for your lunch selection,” and, with her exact inflection, the principal’s cheery sign-off phrase: “Have a super great day!”
But other times, his use of memorized words is clearly intentional:
One school morning, we were running late (as usual), and his response to my repeated attempts to hurry him out the door was a snarky request…by Shrek to his annoying friend Donkey: “Could you NOT be yourself…for FIVE MINUTES!”
His echolalia is sometimes sparked by hearing a familiar word or phrase:
I was talking with him about feeling anxious regarding a change in his schedule, and he heard me say the word “nervous.” I was so proud to hear him respond: “I get so nervous!” That is, until he followed it up with “Rawr!! …Were you scared? Tell me honestly.” Then, I knew that I was really speaking to the neurotic dinosaur Rex from Toy Story.
And, it’s super fun to be shown that my own words can be memorized as easily as the movies he’s watched 1000’s of times. The deadly accuracy of his auditory memory has revealed things about my verbal habits which I would usually prefer not to have repeated:
When I say “Stop it,” using a particular tone – he will often finish for me: “…right now!”
The other night, as I was trying to wrangle my giggling, procrastinating kid into the shower, my heavy sigh alone was enough to trigger a delayed echo of what he assumed would be my next statement: “…driving me crazy!”
One morning, in our tight, overcrowded garage, my hands were full and I was trying to get him to open the car door for me. He was confused by what I needed and kept opening the door and getting into the car himself, instead of moving out of my way. Then, he would get out and shut the door before I could get in, both of us getting increasingly frustrated [and yes, of course, we were running late for school]. I lost my patience and muttered “God…!” My kid paused, lowered his head and under his breath finished my censored thought: “…dammit.” Oops.
Apparently, I have very predictable patterns under stress because my words come back to haunt me most often in situations that share that “emotional context”:
After returning home from a chiropractic appointment, my child found himself sitting across the kitchen table from a highly flustered parent who had failed after forty-five excruciating minutes to get her son to lie down for the doctor in order to receive a simple five-minute adjustment [something he’d been doing for months without an issue]. A lecture on why we need to follow directions at the doctor’s office ensues, and he can see that Mom is irritated and rapidly losing the battle to get her stress under control. This “emotional context” reminds him of one of those “helpful” things Mom often says to him when he is upset.
Result: My son, who rarely strings more than two words together with communicative intent, leans across the table, puts his hand on mine, looks me in the eye and says, “It’s not a big deal.”
I actually respond with “It is a big deal…” before I realize what just happened and break down laughing.
It’s funny how my Echo can use words he equates with stress to completely diffuse mine.