Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Echo, uh-oh

with 14 comments

Pudding chatters all day long. There are certain times, like going to the library, or when I’m putting her brother to bed, or in the early hours of the morning, when I wish she was quiet. I instantly regret such a thought, of course, because speech is such a gift and we’re incredibly lucky to have an abundance, rather than an absence of her language.

Like, oh, just about everything about Pudding, her language is atypical. This was the first thing I noticed in the symptoms that eventually led to her diagnosis. I noticed that while she spoke in long sentences, she couldn’t make conversation. And I noticed that she repeated. A lot. No, even more than that. She had echolalia. She still does, in fact, but it is slightly different in some ways. Echolalia is the repetition of another person’s speech. It can be immediate and delayed. All children go through a phase of echolalia, but verbal children with ASDs go through this period for much longer than children who are typically developing.

Uh-oh, what happened?” Once upon a time, someone (probably me) uttered those words upon seeing a mess, and Pudding’s brain recorded it for future use. Now any time there is a similar situation, this exact phrase is her way of calling attention to it. Her language is not yet flexible enough to tell me what happened spontaneously. Instead, we do a little dance where she asks the question, I repeat it back to her, and then she answers. If I’m patient and attentive, I coach her through the correct way of getting my attention and giving me the information. But because I know, I know, that when she utters that phrase it is because she has done something she knows she shouldn’t, and in my anger, my coaching slips away.

She has slightly modified this to, “What happened to me?” in order to relate that she has fallen down and hurt herself.  This seems to be the way she learns language; using the memorized phrase, then adapts it to her situation.  Doing this is called functional echolalia.  For a long time it formed the bulk of Pudding’s communication, and for an inflexible form of language, it works surprisingly well.  I learned what she was trying to convey, and if her language abilities had ended there, I’d still be grateful that we could have a back-and-forth exchange.

As she is so familiar with the question-answer format, this is her main way of gaining attention. It is predictable, and when your pragmatic skills are limited, predictable is safe. So if Pudding comes up to you and says: “What shape is that?”, she does not want you to tell her. She knew what a hexagon was before she was two, but this is the only way she knows to interact with you, and interaction is what she desperately seeks.  It is one of the things that makes us most hopeful about her future- she wants to be part of our world, as difficult as that might be.

Last year she had less spontaneous language use. If I asked her if she wanted an apple or an orange, she’d frequently respond with immediate echolalia: “Want a apple or orange“.  Other times she’d just repeat the last choice, then get mad if I offered her the orange instead of the apple.  Now she is able to make the correct choice, and even say “yes” which was a long time coming, though strangely enough, “no” was right on track.

More and more spontaneous language is emerging, but she still uses a lot of echolalia.  When she puts her own words together, it is like a tiny glimpse into the future.  Sometimes I get tricked, the way she recently used, “shall we leave?” to indicate she wanted to leave the mall, was also used to exit the park.  I’ve never heard her use “shall” in any other way, but she will, of course, as she assimilates the word into her vocabulary.

She still uses some delayed and non-functional echolalia, I think just because she likes the way the words sounds together, almost like a stim.  For instance, she likes to repeat the phrase “To the zoo“, but she seems to just like hearing it, she doesn’t have any communicative intent.  There are dozens of examples like this, but I don’t really see a correlation between anxiety and her use of them as has been suggested in some texts.  She just likes it, it feels good to her, so she continues to do it.  Spectrummy Daddy and his friends do this with lines from movies too, so it might be something that is here to stay.  It might even perform a social bonding function, assuming others share the same interests.

Many children with delayed echolalia quote lines from TV or movies, but Pudding sticks to other people’s words, and books.  She has entire books memorized, and she could deceive you into thinking she was reading the whole thing, she is fluent, and matches the picture up to the words.  In reality she can read a few words, but nothing like the amount she has stored in her tape recorder brain.  It is truly a marvel.  I’m addicted to everything that comes out of her mouth, created or repeated; except, of course: “Uh-oh, what happened?”,  that I could go without hearing for a few days!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

14 Responses

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  1. Now to be fair, it is actually fun to say, “to the zoo”. Try it. (Except you have to say it kind of stretched out, so it becomes: “Tooo the zoooo.”) And yes, we do quote lines from movies all the time, so you might be onto something there.

    Spectrummy Daddy

    September 1, 2010 at 7:48 am

    • For some reason, all those non-functional fragments of delayed echolalia are stretched out and vowelly (I know, not a word. Who are you, the language police?). It makes me ponder- is that how she hears it? Or is that how she wants to hear it? Clearly, she is pleased as punch if you join in on her little chants.


      September 1, 2010 at 8:01 am

  2. you are simply amazing at describing Pudding!
    And I giggled at the part about spectrummy daddy and his friends quoting movies…..my husband and his best mate (*cough* both aspies *cough* ) can both quote all of the Monty Python movies verbatim and that constitutes a conversation as far as they are concerned!! LOL


    September 1, 2010 at 8:21 am

  3. Ha, ha, I love it, Fi! I wonder how many spectrummy daddies indulge in scripting with their friends? I think we should do a survey!


    September 1, 2010 at 8:23 am

    • yes, definitely!
      You need a poll 🙂


      September 2, 2010 at 5:00 am

  4. This is a great post. I’ve been struggling for a while to explain to others my two son’s language pattern, and this is it. My 4 yr old is a mimic, and always has been. He is just starting to use words and expressions appropriately, but he’ll say something like “this is the worst day ever!” totally mimicking his older brother in tone and words. Of course, when he was little we were hoping he’d make a living at impressions, until we understood it was part of his ASD 🙂


    September 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    • He might yet be a mimic- you never know! I remember being weepy right after her diagnosis about how echolaic her language was, but I have no problem with it now. I actually think it is quite amazing to take the skill they do have (memorizing) and make that work to compensate for their weaknesses. Just the sheer determination to do something so unnatural for them, it takes my breath away.


      September 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

  5. My Julia did this EXACT same thing. She’s almost six now, and her echolalia has morphed a bit, and isn’t as noticeable. But like Fi’s husband and friends, my husband and I OFTEN say things like, “What?! Is the air speed velocity of an unladen Swallow?”

    And Coleman and I spontaneously break into scenes of just about anything we’ve seen together. My mother calls us her human MP3 players!


    September 4, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    • Spectrummy Daddy and I were very amused by the above scene from Extras. For the longest time, Pudding would say, “Wizard you shall not pass!” and then she would substitute wizard for Santa, Corduroy, Mummy, or whatever came to mind. She still does it if I say it to her. I had no idea of echolalia back then, I just found it really funny that my kid was mimicking Sir Ian McKellan.


      September 4, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  6. I’m really enjoying your blog! Pudding sounds so sweet!

    My little Aspie has some echolalia (firefox is trying to correct that to echolocation, I would believe that too LOL), whenever she is reminded to say ‘please’ she recites in a sing song sort of way ‘please can I have …. pleeease’ in the exact tone and rhythm and wording that I told her several years ago when I was giving her an example of how to use her manners to ask for something. We had an inkling she was ‘spectrummy’ then but we didn’t really know about Aspergers yet. I’ve told her countless times other ways she can use her manners and that she doesn’t have to say exactly that, but it’s still going strong.

    Emma Apple

    September 13, 2010 at 12:56 am

    • Echolalia is so funny. I feel like I can easily get her to say the “right” thing, but can’t undo the phrase she is used to. So several times a day we hear: “I did a burp….S’cuse me!” It doesn’t matter what we do, can’t get her to drop that first part. Oh well! Thank you for visiting!


      September 13, 2010 at 7:11 am

  7. […] labels things, including me.  His pattern of acquiring language is so startlingly similar to his sister’s that we feel we’re just watching the same process unravel.  There is one difference, […]

  8. […] She remembers almost everything that everyone has ever said to her, indeed this appears to be the way she learns language.  I have dark fantasies about abusing this gift by taking her to Vegas for some card-counting, but […]

  9. […] echolalia fill a gap when he doesn’t have the skills to communicate effectively?  At times echolalia seems to perform the same function as it does for […]

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