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.


Anonymous said...

I suspect most people use echolIa at least a couple of times a day in casual conversation. Think about it: whenever someone spills a drink, someone says 'drinking problem' and everyone laughs as though hearing it for the first time. Hardly original. Going shopping, if asked if we need assistance, dont we all say, 'no thanks, just browsing'. Totally auto pilot, totally unoriginal. How many of us quote seinfeld, years after it been cancelled on tv. Hasnt every single person said 'ill be back' in an arnie voice? We all do it, its fun and preserves pop culture. Stamping it out seems futile. It might be an autistic trait, or might be a everybody trait. Either way, its no problem.....

Josephine Boone said...

"Temba, his arms wide."

Secret Sunshine said...

First, I have to say I fully agree with the first comment. Everybody still uses echolalia well into adulthood. I really don't think there is a difference.

I think sometimes echolalia can be problematic if it evolves (or, perhaps, devolves) into some sort of obsessive/compulsive scripting. My son used to get "stuck" a lot, and repeat things over and over again, and want others to participate in his scripting. Luckily, if you ask him if he needs you to hit him in the back of the head to get him going again, he busts out in laughter and says "YEAH!" and the spell is broken. ...He's easy, haha.

(Shrug) I think people miss how NOT random echolalia is because they don't understand the reference a lot of times. My son is the MASTER of echolalia, but he has this really impressive ability to decipher context clues. His delayed echolalia was so appropriate that outsiders thought they were carrying on a conversation. I remember going to his therapists to discuss it and they were like "I never hear him script. Ever." Omg, Veteran BCBA, that conversation y'all had YESTERDAY was from Bumblebee Kids Question Words, but okay...

Kelly Sheehy said...

Thank you for writing this and sharing your ideas. I agree with you. It is how my daughter learnt to converse. She could imitate accents and speech patterns with an uncanny ability! We thought it was so clever! I had forgotten that she even used to do that.

Aspergirl Maybe said...

I agree with this wholeheartedly. It was so helpful to me to have an SLP explain when my son was little was that all kids do this when they are learning to talk, but it's just that most of them do it for a shorter time period and when they are fairly young.

I think it also shows how many people on the spectrum use strong memorization abilities to balance out other skills. I love asking my son where a particular phrase came from, and that he can usually tell me what show/episode it was from!

Gen Scott Anthony said...

I discovered my son was doing this too as a 3 yr old(after not speaking all of the time before that), in the same pattern as you described in your first paragraph..are you sure you weren't referring to him? Too uncanny! I did not stop my son, I tried to figure out what he was referring to and began incorporating his type of talk in with mine because at the time that was the only time he was verbal and that was the only way I could get his interest in a "conversation". I did not even know my son had Aspergers at the time...interesting how as a parent, you make accomodations for your child without even realizing what you are doing! He is 12 now, and will still occasionally bust out the echolalia habit...but now I point out when he is doing it just so that he is aware of himself, and he laughs about it...but continues to do it like he is 'stuck' in the phrase he is repeating because it interests him so much. I would never stop it though, as that is who he is and I love everything about him.
Plus I can thank Echolalia for helping him become verbose.

saddleshoe said...

I often wonder whether part of the attraction of Rap isn't Echolalia --- there is a lot of quoting, and I have students who walk up and down the halls repeating rap songs. They say the phrases to each other, like a secret code.

!!Chaos!! said...

Hmmm, what is it when I repeat what I just said silently right after I say it? Like saying "hi" to someone and then mouthing hi like a whisper right after. It's an odd thing I find myself having to try to stop after people point it out for the hundredth time.