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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thoughts on echolalia

I read an excellent book today---"Following Ezra", by Tom Fields-Meyer. I'd highly recommend it. It told of his autistic son, and was just written in such a warm and accepting and kind way. It wasn't about interventions, or causes, or social implications---it was about Ezra, and life with him. There aren't many books like that. One thing Ezra did a lot that Janey also does a lot is talk using echolalia---repeating back what she hears, either just afterward or in delayed by hours, days or sometimes months or years. The book got me thinking about this, and wondering about it. I did a little brief research, and it seems like the old thinking was that it was a bad thing, that it was just verbal stimming and it had to be eliminated, but the more current thinking is that it can lead to useful speech. I didn't find a whole lot of ideas on how best to respond to it. I do see how it can be used helpfully, as Janey's special ed teacher has showed me, with an idea that works well. Instead of saying to Janey "Say goodbye to Mama" or something like that, have someone say goodbye to me so Janey can hear---for example, the teacher will say "Goodbye, Mama!" and sometimes say it over and over, until Janey is compelled by whatever part of her makes her want to repeat things, and she says it herself. That in turn sets up a routine, and the next day it can be like she's doing delayed echolalia of her own speak when she says goodbye to me! Very cool.

One article talked about levels of echolalia, and how some is just meaningless, but other times it's used in place of speech the child isn't capable of yet. I've written a little about that before, and it's one of my favorite things Janey does. She pulls out a snippet from a video or song or occasionally something we've said, and plugs it in at an appropriate time. For example, the other day we were outside in the cloudy evening, and I tried pointing out stars to her in the clear spots, and she said "Kipper, do stars go out, like lights?"---a line directly from a Kipper video, about camping at night and it getting cloudy. I loved it. For whatever reason, it's very hard for Janey to figure out how to say things that aren't pre-scripted, so she cuts and pastes speech. It seems like a convoluted way to talk, but it works for her, at times.

This got me thinking in a larger way about aspects of autism that are just plain interesting. Things like echolalia are fascinating to me, which is something I think I have surpressed lately, as if somehow admitting parts of autism are interesting would somehow mean that I wanted Janey to be autistic, or am not doing all I can to make her not autistic. Believe me, if I could wave a wand and make Janey still be herself but not be autistic or retarded, I would. But I can't do that. And so, since this is reality, I'm going to let myself enjoy the interesting parts, just a little.

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