Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mockingbird Monologues

We have a mockingbird living in our yard, and now and then, we are treated to his song.  If you've ever heard a mockingbird sing, you know how cool it is.  He sings for a long, long time, with little bits and pieces of all kinds of other bird songs and noises, and sometimes things like car alarms and squirrel and cat cries.  It's quite something to hear.

Last night, Janey barely slept, and she was in one of the the moods where she talked and sang non-stop.  All the talking was delayed echolalia from assorted videos, and the songs were like an iPod set on random---every genre, mood and rhythm of song coming up one after another.  Although I was collapsing from tiredness, for some reason I was struck by how very cool, like the mockingbird's song, Janey's monologues like that are.

Imagine a child who very rarely says much except the simplest phrases----"Snuggle on Mama's bed!  Ice cream, please, ice cream!  No, Mama!  Don't brush your hair!"  And then imagine that same girl using words far beyond any in her regular vocabulary to recite dialogue "Well, I don't call you a narrator!  I call you a big old secret teller, and I'm kicking you out of this story!"  or "What's the difference between a lie and a fib?  Well, a fib is just not quite telling the truth.  A lie, well, that's just a lie!  Why do you ask?"  "What's a top 10 countdown?  It's when you pick your ten favorite songs and count them down, starting at 10 and going to 10!"  Those quotes from Mickey's Magical Christmas, Angelina Ballerina and Elmo's Top 10 Countdown were ones Janey said in rapid succession last night, all with perfect diction and expression.

Then imagine a child who often screams for hours, who is not toilet trained, who is in many ways severely intellectually delayed, and imagine her singing these lyrics, perfectly in tune...

Oh, it's a jolly holiday with you, Bert
Gentlemen like you are few
Though you're just a diamond 
in the rough, Bert
Underneath your blood is blue!
You'd never think of pressing 
your advantage
Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed
A lady needn't fear when you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear!

Forbearance?  Gentility?  How does it all work?  How is it possible that Janey can sing like that, and sing with expression and style, not at all robotically?  And then switch to "Pumped Up Kicks", then to "Rhinestone Cowboy", then to "Angels We Have Heard on High", to name just a few, all sung, to my ears anyway, perfectly?

Is Janey like the mockingbird?  Is there some little genetic piece of code we share with them, that is usually hidden, but in Janey, is expressed?  Does the mockingbird understand what it is singing and saying?  Does Janey?  I don't know.  Does it matter?  It does, I think.  Echolalia takes up so much of Janey's time that I want to understand it better.  Is it meaningful to her?  Why is it something she does so much of?  Should I discourage it, or embrace it?  Is it just an odd little quirk, a strange autism trick, or is it how Janey wants to talk?  I read the recent article that made the rounds about connecting through Disney, and I can understand that, but Janey's echolalia is different, her particular form of autism more isolating.  She doesn't enjoy sharing her echolalia.  She doesn't like to be joined in her singing or her reciting, not at all.

On some days, I just relax and enjoy the monologue.  On rare occasions, I just let myself be awed by Janey's mind, however different than the mainstream it might be.  Once in a while, I just love hearing her surprise me with her version of the mockingbird's song.


1 comment:

David Fee said...

My daughter's echolalia isn't that extensive but I'm not hoping she gets better at it as it's not a substitute for real interactive speech even on a limited scale. The myth of Echo is usually a sad tale explaining why we hear echoes and not something original. My guess is that it's an attempt to hear themselves say something that sounds interesting the way some people say a foreign phrase or a "big word" without understanding but for ASD kids it's not to impress others. They like the way the words rolls off the tongue. My daughter's speech has gotten worse for different reasons- lack of interaction from teachers and other kids, too much repetitive dvd viewing and the Ipad. I can see why parents with truly non-verbal kids would even welcome the echolalia but we usually hope for a little more or some improvement.