Echolalia is a term I’ve used a few times in my blog and people have asked me about it so I thought I would write post on the topic.
Echolalia is the repetition on phrases and words. Otsimo.com has a very informative page on the subject from the perspective of Autism.
Most children when learning to talk will use echolalia to a certain extent. Repeating what mummy or daddy say helps a child learn language skills. By the time a child turns three years old, the use of echolalia declines and they have their own set of communications skills.
But, this isn’t always the case. Especially with autistic children.
Communication is a complex skill.
From a very young age, Bear’s speech and enunciation was very clear. People have always been able to understand the words he uses, but they weren’t always in context.
I remember one time, a teacher said good morning to him and he replied, telling them they were a frog.
A response, yes, but not the one that was expected.
At the time, Dr. Seuss was one of the objects of his hyper-focus. He knew his favourite stories off-by-heart and regularly recited them to us.
I’m sure in his own mind he had said good morning back, but on the way to school, he had been repeating a Dr. Seuss story.
He must have been at the frog part of it when he opened his mouth to communicate.
When Bear uses echolalia, he tends to repeat his words at a later time. This is known as Delayed Echolalia.
Immediate Echolalia is more about repeating what has been said to him in that moment.
Repetition to his heart’s content.
At the moment, his current hyper-focus is Transformers. He plays with them every day and watches YouTube videos about them. Husband has also introduced him to the old school cartoons that he used to watch as a child.
He will watch the same videos over and over again and talks along with whatever the presenter is saying. He will later be in his room, repeating the same video but with his own Transformers.
I could go into his room and ask him what he wants for dinner, but instead of a coherent answer, I would get a phrase from the video repeated back at me.
Not Disrespectful, just Stimming
In those types of moments, he isn’t being rude. His brain didn’t comprehend the question and instead he brought me into his world at that moment.
He will also repeat the phrases when lying in bed as a for of self-regulation, or Stim. It’s something he finds comforting and calming as a way of winding down from the day.
Is it something I want to put a stop to? Sometimes YES!!
He will repeat the same thing over and over again and it can drive me INSANE!!
When I am trying to talk to him about something, be it dinner choice or how did he go at school, I do not want to hear how the Grimlock legs are more flexible that the Megatron from 1997!
It can be challenging to focus his attention on where it needs to be in the moment. Simple things like turning off the video doesn’t always fix it. He doesn’t need the video playing to remember what was said!
Making it work.
Physical touch helps a lot. Maggie Dent, one of my favourite parenting authors and educators, talks about physical touch with her “rooster” boys. It’s an effect way of getting their attention and creating that connection so they actually take in what’s being said.
When I need Bear’s full attention, I won’t yell and scream at him. Well, sometimes I have, I’m only human! But I will focus more on a tickle on his neck, stroking his arm and holding his hand until I have his attention, or even a giant full on bear hug until he realises I actually need him to talk to me. I will also get him to repeat back to me what I’ve just said so I know it’s gone in and been understood.
But when I step back at watch him, it’s fascinating to listen to him. Seeing him repeat the phrases and going over certain words as if they feel weird in his mouth.
He is turning them over in his brain to make sense of them and then re-enacting scenes to go with the phrases.
The enjoyment he gets is very heart warming. It’s like watching Frog play with her dolls, but the Bear version. Why would I want to put a stop to something that helps calm him? Something that helps him make sense of this bizarre world we live in and increases his social interaction.
If I have a problem with his constant repetition, well that’s my problem not his. But I do need to make sure he realises when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.
Isn’t that what’s known as parenting?
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