Friday, November 30, 2012
Echolia - should you try to stamp it out?
You're so happy that your previously mostly silent child is now talking quite a bit. Where, until recently there had only been grunts and one-word answers, now there are whole sentences, often offering what seems to be profound insights on life.
It is only later, when you recognise the same turn of phrase, the same expression or the same accent, that you realise that all this time, he's been quoting from movies and TV shows. You feel cheated and your first impulse is to stamp it out.
The question is; should you?
This condition is called echolia and it's very common in children and adults with Asperger's syndrome.
There are many books and specialists who say "yes", very strongly "yes", you should stamp this behaviour out. It's even suggested by some of the most progressive writers in the field.
I say no.
In fact, I'm completely stunned by some of the people saying yes and it's led me to think that perhaps Echolia isn't as well understood as I thought.
So without further ado, here are my reasons why parents should not try to stamp Echolia out.
Any communication is better than none.
There are many forms of communication of which talking is only a small part. Any reaction is communication; blinking, nodding, waving, speech, gestures... Even poetry; some would say "especially poetry".
I mentioned poetry because it's often a series of oblique phrases, similes and metaphors - very much like Echolia itself.
Echolia isn't just the random "blurting of phrases". Your child is thinking about things and is using phrases which suit the situation - even if you don't understand the references, it doesn't mean that they aren't there. That's why it all seemed to fit so well before you began to recognise phrases. Of course, there's still a random element to it. Some phrases and accents are fun to say and when that happens, it becomes yet another form of stimming.
Mainly though, Echolia is communication via the selection and repetition of relevant phrases.
Echolia is deeper and wider than you think.
We all start our first steps in communication with the repetition of sounds, such as "da" from our parents. Echolia is no different. It's still a form of "speech learning".
Sure, you've recognised phrases from the movies or TV. Have you noticed phrases from other places? Radio, books, past conversations? It's all there. Echolia is not the sole province of Hollywood. It's the repetition of carefully selected and relevant language from all sources - and it's a major form of learning.
Clearly, nobody should be suggesting that we take learning styles and opportunities away from our kids. Echolia provides important groundwork in social communication.
Shared Echolia leads to Deeper Communication
My best friend and I used to have amazing and deep conversations at school everyday. We felt very comfortable with each other and our conversations often consisted entirely of language"lifted" and tweaked from other parts of our shared history. Sometimes from texts we had studied like hamlet and Emma, sometimes from films and very often from snatches of past conversation. It was a deeper and more complex and fulfilling type of conversation.
It was only later when other mates would say; "you guys went on for ages and nobody else had any idea if what the &@"$! You were talking about that I realised that they really couldn't follow our conversations. I tried in vain to teach them but Echolia seems to be the province of few.
I really miss those conversations now because nobody else has the ability to keep up with me in that regard.
There is no doubt in my mind that Echolia reaches, and surpasses the level of complexity required to communicate ideas.
Not everyone will recognise it
Sure, you've discovered that your child is repeating phrases rather than holding "original conversations". You're his parent. You've known him all his life and you have a significant "shared history" in this regard. It still probably took you a while to figure it out though.
Most people with whom your child engages in casual conversation won't be listening for so long and won't have the same shared history. They may never realise that one side of the conversation is full of quotes.
As your child gets older and more experienced in conversation, you'll find that the quotes are increasingly modified to fit a given situation. Eventually they'll become mostly unrecognisable from the source material.
If others aren't recognising it and if it's giving your child the comfort and confidence they need to carry out conversations then I really can't see how it could be considered a problem.
Don't try to stamp it out - try to build on it for complete social success.