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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Article: Recognising Sensory Overload

My latest article; Recognising Sensory Overload, is now available at Special-ism.

It's worth a read especially if you have a child who puts his/her hands over their ears frequently.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: "A Lifetime of Laughing and Loving with Autism" Compiled by R. Wayne Gilpin

A Lifetime of Laughing and Loving with Autism
New and Revised Stories that will warm and inspire you.
Compiled by R. Wayne Gilpin

It's hard to describe the gap that this book fills but it's a significant one. I've heard it described as "chicken soup for the soul for parents of children with autism".  It's not a turn of phrase that I'd normally use, but I guess it's quite accurate.

This book was one of the first positive texts published at a time when the world of autism was overwhelmingly negative. The world has changed a lot since then but I've still not seen a book which tells autism stories quite like this.

The book reads very much like certain sections of a women's magazine. In Australia, the magazine column is called "mere male" and it's full of stories about partners, family and children who misinterpret things with amusing or revealing results. This book is more of the same but this time with people on the autism spectrum.

Just like those "mere male" columns, there's no malice intended and clearly the individuals talked about are very much loved. Instead of malice, this book says "I can relate" or "that happened to us too!".  In some cases it makes it very clear that we underestimate our children with autism or the love that their siblings have for them.

In short; this is a book full of "magic moments".

There are funny stories, sad stories, shocking stories and best of all, poignant stories. There are amazing stories of things that good and bad teachers have said and done and emails from people on the spectrum which capture important moments and feelings.

Best of all, this is a book of hope filled with moments that you'll treasure and re-read over and over again.

Each story is very short, with most being only a paragraph or two. This means that it contains a large number of stories and that it's very accessible and easy to read.

A Lifetime of Laughing and Loving with Autism is available from Future Horizons - in fact it's the book which changed a father's life and opened the doors to the largest publisher of autism-related books in the world.

It's also available from Amazon.

With Christmas just around the corner, this is one of those books that would make an excellent gift for a family with a child with autism. A gift that simply says, "I understand".

This review was based on the 2012 edition and on materials provided to me free of charge for review purposes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: "Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew" (Updated and Expanded Edition)

"Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew"
by Ellen Notbohm;
Updated and Expanded Edition 2012
Published by Future Horizons

This is quite an unusual book. It's not a practical guide to handling day to day issues with Autism, nor is it a dry clinical description of Autism.  It's essentially a book promoting a new paradigm, (a whole new outlook) on Autism. It provides you with an understanding of some key positive concepts and then goes on to show how they can be put into practical use on a daily basis.

I feel that this book could be better described with the considerably less catchy title of;  Ten concepts which your future happy and successful grown up child with autism needs you to know, understand, believe and "live" now - in order to ensure that the time line works out for the best.

Make no mistake, these aren't ten baby concepts which will only hold true for a small part of your child's life.  They're adult ones, mantras for living - and they apply forever.

The book starts with a list of the 10 things which I'll list below because there are no surprises here.
They're the names of the chapters and are prominently displayed on Amazon.

  1. I am a whole child.
  2. My senses are out of sync
  3. Distinguish between won't and can't
  4. I am a concrete thinker, I interpret language literally
  5. Listen to all the ways I'm trying to communicate
  6. Picture this! I am visually orientated
  7. Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can't do
  8. Help me with social interactions
  9. Identify what triggers my meltdowns
  10. Love me unconditionally.

                  You'll notice that every one of these ten things is open-ended. Each topic contains a lot of important discussion material.  I won't say that I agreed 100% with everything but the later chapters put all of my minor niggles to rest.  Ellen makes it clear at the beginning of the book that all children are different and that not everything here will apply to every child.

                  This book spends quite a bit of time discussing the "language of autism" as it used by parents, media and support personnel. It makes it very clear that the way in which we express, embrace and encourage our children has monumental impact both on their self esteem and their future success.  Often we use negative language without realising it and the book provides some handy hints on how to detect and remove these negative words from our daily interactions.

                  If you've ever used a phrase like "my child suffers from autism", then you really need to read this book. Similarly, if you've said; "my child will never do that".

                  The subject of the book is Ellen's son Bryce and by reading between the lines, you can follow his journey from a child seen as a PIA (Potentially Independent Adult) to a fully functional, self-supporting adult.

                  There are some wonderful "bonus chapters" in the book including; "Ten things I want my high school senior with Autism to know" and a great chapter called Evolution which really presses home the problems of limiting language.  Finally, the book ends with some discussion questions which are really worth thinking about.

                  If it all sounds really technical, don't worry, it's not. In fact, it's quite an easy read at just under 200 pages and a really easy-going font but it's a book that will get you thinking and it's a book that could change your life.  It probably should be required reading for all parents of children on the spectrum.

                  "Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew" by Ellen Notbohm is available from Amazon:
                  Note: the older 2005 version is available there too, and in a kindle version but I think that the changes in the updated version are significant enough that I'd recommend that you get the 2012 version.

                  You can read more by Ellen or contact her via her website, facebook and twitter;