Monday, July 7, 2008

Echolalia - one mom's perspective

Echolalia, for those that don't know, is basically repeating back what you hear, and is a common speech issue for those on the spectrum. It can take the form of repeating back just the last word you said, a whole phrase, either right away or at a later time, or even entire scripts / dialogues from conversations, tv, movies, or other sources.

When Cuddlebug was younger, much of his speech was echolalia. I remember our frustration at trying to teach him his name, and how to respond to the question "what's your name?" at age 3, it went something like this:

Us: "what's your name?"
Him: "name"
Us: "Your name is 'CB'"
Him: "name 'CB'"
Us: "Yes! That's it! Ok, what's your name?"
Him: "name"

It went on like that over and over... this was before he was dx'd so we had no idea why or what the official term for this was. Here's another example:

Me: "Do you want milk or juice?"
Him: "juice"

Silly me, I thought he was answering my question, so imagine my surprise when I brought him juice and he responded by screaming and throwing himself on the floor in a meltdown. Apparently, he didn't want juice!

Fast forward a bit, we were getting real responses (woo-hoo!) to questions and yes, they learned to answer not only what their names were, but how old they were (although if you asked CB "how are you?" he'd also answer that with his age). Then we started to hear the "whole dialogue" form of echolalia in their play. They played with their Thomas trains a LOT and when I stopped to listen I noticed something familiar about the words... only to realize they were quoting word for word from actual Thomas stories.

Now at age 7, there is almost no echolalia in their speech. Although every now and then Bearhug will quote me an entire commercial if it's something he's interested in, like Mighty Putty. Any time something breaks he goes into "commercial mode" and tells me word for word all the great things about Mighty Putty and how it can solve all our problems (did you know it can pull a truck? Apparently so!). By the time he's done I'm convinced the stuff will actually end hunger and promote world peace. Ok, slight exaggeration ;).

This brings me to Little Bitty. His speech is more delayed than his brothers at the same age. For the longest time, he wouldn't repeat back anything. He just completely ignored us most of the time. So when he started repeating back words we were thrilled! It's just one step on the road to developing interactive communication skills. He has a number of little phrases too, and he knows what they mean b/c he uses them appropriately. For example, anytime he finds himself somewhere he doesn't want to be, he says "time to go!" lol.

The words he does say, he has to work really hard to get them to sound like the word he's trying to say. Some of his words have been very different from the actual pronunciation, so it takes a little detective work to figure it out, and it's still a work in progress. For example, I remember a while back he was looking at the moon outside, and since he seemed so interested in it, I pointed and said "moon... that's the moon" He concentrated for a minute and then said "tuh." Now he can actually say "moon" well actually it's more like "moo" but it's much closer to the actual word than "tuh."

I've tried to "take advantage" of (for lack of a better term) his echolalia to get him to say "mama" or "love you" but so far no luck. I'll keep trying :)

One thing that impresses me is that he seems very aware of the fact that people have a hard time understanding him. He'll say something and then look at me expectantly, waiting for me to repeat it back to him indicating that I understood him. If I don't, or if I get it wrong, he'll keep saying it. It occurred to me the other day that from his perspective, I am the one with echolalia because I'm always repeating back what he says :). That's ok, because he's definitely making progress and it is so cool to see each of his little steps along the way.


babs m on July 8, 2008 at 8:10 PM said...

Oh I hear you on the commercials.... my autistic ones and my ADD one can't remember a darn thing I tell them but if you want to know about the New Froot Loops and what color the new shape is and why it's good for you and what special offer's in the box....they're your folk. Crazy isn't it?? Good work in getting them to work toward real communication-- it's such a gift!


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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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