For the past several months, I’ve been so glad that Isaac was talking that I couldn’t really see what he’d be working on next in Speech Therapy. He was TALKING! It’s AMAZING!!
But I started to notice that he and I would have communication breakdown that seemed to be connected to pronouns. I’d say “get your shoes.” and he’d get mine. I’d say, “Can you please put this blanket on my bed?” and he’d put it on his bed. Or…he’d say to me “you do it!” and when I would try to help him do it, he’d get angry. By “you do it!” he meant that he wanted to do it. As though I said “you do it.” I was getting good at figuring out what he meant…or clarifying with “Mommy do it? or Isaac do it?” but I decided to go ahead and write his Speech Therapist and ask for some tips. This seemed like a really complex, abstract idea to unravel. How do I get him to understand that when I say “you”, to him, it’s “me”?
She wrote me back with some tips and said on the side “his echolalia is getting much better.”
I know what echolalia is. I first heard about it when I spent time student teaching in a classroom of autistic kids back in college. When I hear Andrew and Isaac’s classmates do it, I know “oh! They have echolalia!” But it had never once occurred to me that Isaac had it.
Echolalia just means echoing back what the other person said. So, I’ll ask Isaac “Do you want juice?” and he’ll say “you want juice.” …instead of just “yes.” So, it’s not just a pronoun mix up at work here…it’s a little more involved than that.
Like most characteristics of autism, I can see that echolalia serves a function. He’s using the patterns of language I provide to communicate things he was recently unable to communicate. It’s a tool…or maybe even a stepping stone. And he uses it to his advantage. He can even be a cheeky monkey about it. ;) This morning he was asking if he could play wii before school and I said “Sorry buddy, but no way!” and he said back to me “Sorry buddy, but yes way!” and then ran out of the room laughing.
What surprised me most about all of this was that I didn’t know. It really, really surprised me that I didn’t know. I don’t think echolalia itself is that big of a deal. I feel like we’ll work with it…his teachers and therapists will work with it…his language has improved so much, so quickly, that I am hopeful that his growth will just continue to unfold. But I really can’t believe it was right there in front of me all along and I couldn’t see it. It’s just another reminder what a different experience it is to come at this as a parent. And coming at this as a parent with a bit of a professional background in Special Education is a double edged sword. I know more than I would if I hadn’t had Special Needs experience…but then I expect myself to know more than I do. It’s pretty humbling. ;)