Echolalia: Sounds so nice he says it twice!

We’re back from our whirlwind, one-day road trip to St. Louis. The boys were showing the strain from a four-and-a-half hour car trip followed by a four hour stint at their cousin’s wedding. Though my youngest did a wonderful interpretive dance to “Sweet Home Chicago” – which may have been the longest eight minutes of some of the wedding guests’ lives as they tried to overcome the need to giggle – he didn’t enjoy the reception. After he was finished eating ( & miracle of miracles he did eat – the bride & groom were thoughtful and provided 2 of the seven foods my son willingly ingests), he said “Dad, get the check and let’s skeedaddle!” Our tablemates were very amused by him.

He fared much better back at the hotel. Not that he’s still a…

Okay at this point I yelled out to my husband “If a Francophile is a person obsessed with all things french, what kind of -phile is someone obsessed with trains?” Without removing his eyes from the TV he says “Umm…autism-o-phile?”

…kid obsessed with trains, he very much enjoyed staying at a hotel situated in a refurbished train station. He especially enjoyed the Whispering Arch in the Grand Hall.  Just because he’s forced to listen to Wilco by his borderline obsessed mother a Wilco fan, he whispered the lyrics to “Casino Queen”  (in actuality he probably chose this song because we’d seen billboards for the actual CQ along the highway on our way into town) to his brother, who marched off in disgust.

I, of course, started singing “Shiny, shiny pants and bleached blonde hair” as we passed the landing. Ah, memories. The last time I remember going to the landing in the summer I was dressed in a whilte jumpsuit with a 4- inch wide silver belt, which I thought was the height of fashion. Sadly, it was pointed out that in reality I looked like a female Elvis….without the talent. Though I did get a notoriously silent friend to talk about his brother & the coins said brother could stick up his nose, but that’s a story for another time & another affliction.

Okay, so you get the picture. The kids were overstimulated and bored, simultaneously, if that’s possible.  They awake the morning after the wedding only to face the car trip home – less than 24 hours after we had arrived. And I insisted on eating breakfast at a place I like in Clayton. Which was quite a detour from our intended path home & crowded, to boot. I was entertained by people-watching, but the kids weren’t. They were plugged in to the restaurant’s electrical sockets, playing a few treasured minutes of video games which I had approved in order to get a few treasured minutes of peace.

The waitress, who was trying to take our order, fixed her attention on my young DS player & asked what he’d like to order. I prompted him, since he didn’t answer the first time, and he said- not peeling his eyes away from the screen (see above reference to his dad)- “I don’t want anything. I don’t want anything.”  This was in a REALLY loud voice.

You know how sometimes people at the next table start riffing of your conversation even though it shows blatant eaves-dropping on their part? Well, the folks at the table next to us weren’t doing that. They just randomly started talking about echolalia. Which brings me to the point of this entry (quelle surprise…she has a point!)…most of the people that hear echolalia dismiss it as “meaningless babble” which is unfortunate. While they are technically accurate in the definition of the word but I think this is a case where the word and the meaning have long since parted company (like alt country?).

I love what this Dr. Bill Long says in his essays (really, hang in there and read this one and this one…c’mon you made it through my obscure Wilco references….) The myth of Echo and Narcissus is such a great illustration. Long’s hypothesis that echolalia is laden  with emotion and coupling that with Dr. Frith’s input that echolalia is the product of a person with autism trying to communicate “above their grammatical competence” makes my heart sing (possibly something by Daniel Johnston).

My kids have each exhibited echolalia at one time or another.  The oldest was stuck on saying “Now available on DVD” which he picked up from the commercials for Disney movies. At first, it seemed he used it randomly. Then it dawned on me that he was only saying “now available…” when he was very happy.

While he doesn’t lapse into echolalia as a teenager (except when he’s mimicking Joe Biden) he still struggles with producing reliable speech when overcome with emotion. But don’t we all? It’s OK to be “rendered speechless” and we’ve all heard this expression  from time to time (never about me, but I’ve still heard the expression). BTW when we think something’s important,  it “bears repeating.” Don’t most songs have repetition in their lyrics…”Happy BIrthday” & “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” & “Jingle Bells” & “Forever Your Girl” come to mind. Boy, for someone who claims to have good taste in music – Paula Abdul? 

So is echolalia a memory issue? It’s usually the end of a string of words that is parroted back, right? Is that because the beginning of the string of words is forgotten or because the words hold no meaning for the person with echolalia?

Is echolalia a building block to spontaneous functional speech? Read Uta Frith’s “Autism: Explaining the Enigma” and get back to me. Also, does anyone else see the connection between “fendle” and this book? But which came first the chicken or the frindle?

-the cheese says say cheese. practice makes perfect.


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