As some of you other parents may relate to, having a child with echolalia means having no more secrets. Many children with visual impairments do have a speech disorder called “echolalia,” which means they repeat what they hear usually right after they hear it, but sometimes it will show up much later.
For example, if I ask Eddie, “What would you like?” He’ll respond with, “What would you like?” We can go on like that for minutes in what sounds very much like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” bit:
Me: “What would you like?”
Eddie: “What would you like?”
Me: “Do you want gum?”
Eddie: “Do you want gum?”
Eddie: “…want gum.”
Me: “Say the whole thing.”
Eddie: “Say the whole thing.”
I think you get my point. We only recently learned some great physical prompting from his speech therapist to encourage him to start and say his own sentences. For example, if I touch his chest, he’ll say, “I” on his own. Some days it takes him longer to pick up the cues, and my patience is tested constantly.
I think you can see how echolalia could be a problem, say, in a public place where everyone else is quiet. This could be at school, in a library, at a performance, or at church…which is where my most recent embarrassment took place. Eddie started getting upset and our conversation went along these lines:
Me: “Shhh…it’s time to be quiet.”
Eddie: “Be Quiet!!!” (Insert loud, rude tone)
Me: “Time to listen.”
Eddie: “Listen!!!” (Again…with the loud, rude tone)
Me: “Eddie do you need a break?”
Eddie: “Break, break, break!!!” (Yep, same tone)
Me: “Do you want to go outside?”
Eddie: “SpongeBob Squarepants! SpongeBob Squarepants!!!”
Me: “Ok, time to go.”
Eddie: “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea!?!?!”
In that brief conversation, he admitted to everyone that sometimes I can get angry and use a tone that isn’t very flattering. Second, he shared with our church that, yes, I do let my kids watch SpongeBob. If only he had started yelling what we call the “Angry Alphabet” instead to at least show off some educational skills.
The one benefit of echolalia is it makes me aware. We all hear ourselves in our children from time to time, but with Eddie, I hear it daily. I’m like all other moms, I hit a wall at times, but it’s horrible to hear that tone thrown back at you…in church of all places. It makes me aware of not only the information I’m giving, but what he’s receiving.
Together with his speech therapists, we’ll continue to work on his language skills. In the meantime, I’ll try not to blush the next time Eddie quotes me, and laugh when his personality shines through. For example, while getting blood drawn today, he pulled up a “script” from his memory and was singing, “You’ve got to move it, move it!” This is exactly what most of us think when getting lab work done. I believe that Eddie often knows what he’s saying; we just have to work on our interpretation skills.