Echolalia – Symptom of Autistic Speech Disorder or Open Door?

Graduate Shadow Jumping in CelebrationLast week I had a huge Huge HUGE breakthrough!
On October 10th, my dad’s birthday, Nicholas woke up in the morning, got out of bed and walked into the kitchen where I was making breakfast.

I said, “Good morning Nicholas.”

I waited for his typical response which is usually to repeat what I say — “Good Morning Nicholas.”
But instead he said, “Good morning Mommy.”

For a minute I froze. In my head I’m screaming – “He responded!” Then I remembered from everything I’ve been reading this month. QUICK, make a big deal about the moment in order to re-enforce the behavior. Hurry make a BIG DEAL!

“Thank you Nicholas! I cheered. “Thank-you for saying: Good morning Mommy!”

I quickly led him to the bathroom for his routine, get up in the morning visit to the commode. After a few more thank yous while he finished his business and gave the toilet a flush, I helped him to the sink to wash his hands. I scooped him up and gave him another hug walking into the master bedroom when the real shocker hit.

“Where’s daddy,” Nicholas said.

I froze again. This was the first time Nicholas had initiated a conversation about something other than food. For months I’ve made a game out of getting Nicholas to ask for things instead of crying, whining or screaming. It’s been a challenge in the last six months to a year. However each day we made slow progress that has gone from yell sessions that led to me running around like a maniac showing Nicholas things saying, “Is this what you want? No– ok is this what you want?” And eventually, like a game show – DING – YOU WIN THE GRAND PRIZE MOMMY! YOU’VE JUST WON SILENCE AND HAPPY CHILD!  —– FOR THE MOMENT.

After getting over the shock, I said, “Daddy’s in the shower honey.”

With a shrug, Nicholas jumped out of my arms and was off to play. By this time my head was spinning. I wanted to cry and celebrate all at the same time. Months of work addressing what I’ve read as: ECHOLALIA – a symptom of autistm was paying off.

Photobucket Image HostingEcholalia defined by meriam-webster’s dictionary is: the often pathological repetition of what is said by other people as if echoing them.
Typically, children do this up to 30 months and then it’s suppose to trail off. When Nicholas didn’t I told my pediatrician that he was having some problems with speech and she said, “Well, sometimes boys develop language late.” Not long after that comment was her concern that he hadn’t had the MMR shot yet. Which is another subject for another blog altogether.

Anyway, the website has a more extensive definition and tips for intervention that I found a little too rigid for Nicholas. However the site really did give me a better handle on understanding it. I had suspected that Nicholas may have this symptom around 3-years-old when I couldn’t get proper responses to my questions. I figured that I’d use what Nicholas had for language and use it as a trampoline to more responses rather than echoed repetition. I found the more I played with him at home, in the store, in the car, and at the park, the more responses he learned.

It was only about four or five months ago when Nicholas would repeat full skits of Sesame Street and Computer Game voiced instructions verbatim for a minute or so at a time. Everything would be with full inflections, change of character and pattern. Now he doesn’t do that anymore. However, often he does repeat responses he’s learned from me to get what he wants.

He’ll say, “Say mommy, can you have a cookie please? Yes Nicholas you can have a cookie please!”

Even though it’s a repeated response I taught him to say, he’s used it consistently in appropriate circumstances. After dozens of times reinforcing the response to how to ask for something to get something from mommy, he began at around 3 1/2 years-old, putting in substitution words for cookie, like juice, (toy) car, and eventually changing the sentence to suit the situation.

He’ll say, “Say mommy, can you put the pass code in the computer please? Yes Nicholas, you can put the pass code in the computer.”

I’m still working on the I, You distinction and getting rid of the “Say” at the beginning of the sentence, but bridging the communication gap is coming along one step at a time.

I saw Echolalia as an opportunity not a symptom of a disorder. I know that our society often likes to put labels on things in order to categorize and understand things. Sometimes labels give concrete clarity to a situation allowing a person to zero in on it to address it at it’s core. However, sometimes labels just get in the way.

I have relatives who have told me, “Don’t get caught up in labels. He’ll be fine.” I often think in my head that I’m not getting caught up in labels, but I’m not going to ignore my child’s inability to communicate clearly with the world. Giving a child labeled Autistic, or any other label, tools to communicate will give him or her more choices and less frustration.

I really don’t care that there’s a label. I USE the information gathered about the label to help him move forward in life. My goal isn’t to “Stamp Out Autism” or “Get Rid of It”. I know that that kind of attitude can and will ultimately get picked up by the child subconsciously as: I want to get rid of YOU I don’t like YOU or I wish that YOU were gone. Jim Sinclair, an autism rights activist, wrote a really great article “Don’t Mourn for Us” in the 1993 Autism International Newsletter that explains this in great detail. I do however, want to give my son every tool and opportunity to navigate in this very large judgmental world around him. Most people just don’t understand Autism Spectrum Disorders and don’t care to understand it. However, the CDC is reporting this year (2012) 1 out of 88 children is dealing with some form of it. So eventually, our society is going to have to wake up and deal with it.

And so that day was a huge victory. I’m happy.

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