We’re sorry. Your communication could not be completed at this time.

Words fly by me fast and loud.  They are not formed into a sentence.  They are phrases.  Bits and pieces of meaning.  Bits and pieces of nonsense.

Communication is more than words.  It’s more than a sentence.  It is a highway of meaning that connects each of us right down to our souls.  Emotionally.  Physically. Mentally.  Communication connects us outside ourselves.  My son’s communication highway is not fully constructed and already under repair.

How many times have you been on a phone call and it cuts out?  You can hear only a few words.  You cannot understand.  You can feel the frustration both from the perspective of the speaker and of the person listening.  One is trying to convey meaning the other can’t understand.

This is life with a child who has autism.  Many, many of the hundreds of conversations I have with him daily are bad connections or lost calls.  He uses words, but many times a day, the words have nothing to do with the meaning. Sometimes, I will get half a sentence and then he will expect me to finish it.

Other times he will repeat something he has heard on television or from a toy to convey a completely different meaning.  By the inflection and urgency of his voice, I must guess what the meaning is.  Sometimes, by our surroundings or by knowing his moods, I can guess what he wants.  Other times, I haven’t a clue.  This gets him frustrated.  If I do not figure it out before he loses patience, he gets angry and that anger often leads to crying.

The problem with communication is that my son’s thoughts are disconnected from what he means.  Something inside him is disconnecting his calls before they are completed. This is a nightmare I used to have.  I needed to make a phone call and could not get through.  Now, I must stand by as my son lives a little bit of this frustrating nightmare every day.

We may be standing right next to a toy and he wants to play with it but instead of asking to play with it, he will say something like, “Hi wheel,” and look at me.  It is then up to me to, first, ask if he wants to play with the toy.  If he says yes, then I demand that he ask me appropriately.  Sometimes, he will just look at me as if to ask me to model the sentence for him.  I will then say, “May I play with the (car) please?” and wait.  He will then repeat it and I will hand him the toy.   I do not know how effective this method actually is.

Another unusual communication avenue is that he wants to repeat words or phrases.  He is also not satisfied with repeating these words himself.  At least 50 times a day, he will demand that I or others who are present with him, repeat a word or a phrase he hears or says.  “Mommy say that,” is a sentence I hear over and over again.  Sometimes, I can ignore it and he will let it go.  There are other times, that if I refuse or try to redirect him, he will repeat himself over and over until I’ve broken down and give in.  By this time, because he’s worked himself into such a state, he needs to hear the words again to move on in his head.

When I try to read about the “whys” of this problem, I get no answers.  Ironically, the information available to me, repeats itself.  This standard information is available from any number of websites and comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:

Although the cause of speech and language problems in autism is unknown, many experts believe that the difficulties are caused by a variety of conditions that occur either before, during, or after birth affecting brain development. This interferes with an individual’s ability to interpret and interact with the world.

This does not help me.  It will not solve our communication problem.  According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, this is what will help:

The best treatment begins early, during the preschool years, is individually tailored, targets both behavior and communication, and involves parents or primary caregivers. The goal of therapy should be to improve useful communication. For some, verbal communication is a realistic goal. For others, the goal may be gestured communication. Still others may have the goal of communicating by means of a symbol system such as picture boards. Treatment should include periodic in-depth evaluations provided by an individual with special training in the evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders, such as a speech-language pathologist. Occupational and physical therapists may also work with the individual to reduce unwanted behaviors that may interfere with the development of communication skills.

In looking at things from this perspective, I am lucky.  My son is receiving the best treatment available.  That treatment began and is still ongoing in his preschool years.  It’s individually tailored, targeting both his behavior and communication with a goal of improving useful communication, among other things.  He has been improving with lots of new sentences popping up here and there.  He is willing to learn.  And he is loved.

With all these positives, I hope the repetitive language, known as echolalia will fade as he grows.  I hope that his inappropriate use of phrases will be replaced by those which will be meaningful and appropriate.  With each step toward using language to convey who he is, I will slowly know my son better.  I hope that the lines will not be crossed and his “calls” will be connected and completed.  Then, we will really talk.  And that is something I look forward to every, single day.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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17 Responses to We’re sorry. Your communication could not be completed at this time.

  1. How funny that we both posted about communication this morning! As a professional writer and English major, I can really sympathize with your feelings for your son. Words are so dear to me — I have spent more than half my life buried in books and scribbling down my thoughts and ideas. I cannot imagine how it must feel to be unable to share. Yet I watch Kaia struggle each and every day and I DO feel her frustration.

    We are both doing the right thing — we have good therapists working with our children and helping them to practice the routines of language that come naturally to most people. It will take a lot of work, but we will help our children get through it!

    • solodialogue says:

      I learn more about you every day, Karla. It is ironic that we both were “communications” majors you in English – me in Broadcast Journalism and now we have children with difficulties in the very area we found so important to our lives. Perhaps that was meant to be.

      I think we are doing it right. I hope that our sense of frustration and of watching our children frustrated will decrease as they learn their own methods to adapt to their environment to get their points across.

  2. Kelly says:

    Right there with you, Sister. It is so rough sometimes. We have so many of the same communication issues. Every damn day. Ted will point to his milk. He then waits for me to say, “Do you want your milk? Use your words.” He will then say, in exactly the same way every time, “I…I…more…I…waaant more milk!” Even if he hadn’t had any milk before, so it can’t technically be MORE milk (which is a very small, petty irritation that I have). Then I say, “What’s the magic word, Ted?” He then goes through the same painful process, but adds “please Mom” to the end. EVERY meal, EVERY day.

    I am a terrible person because it is so irritating to ME, and that is what I tend to focus on. But then I think, is this irritating to him? I mean we do this all the time? Why can’t we just skip ahead to the good part? How does this make him feel to have to be told this again and again? Does he wish he could speak as well as his older sister or parents?

    Every once in awhile he will bust out with a completely unique thought or idea and it thrills me to my very core. Oh, but those moments are so few and far between…

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow, you said the exact same thing that I go through every day. Not, with the milk precisely but TV shows, a snack, etc. You are not a terrible person – at least I hope not because I’m the same way! I lose patience when I have to coach it for the 50th time that day but we just do it anyway because we know that is how it is. And, yeah, those moments they break through it’s like the angels sing – momentarily anyway. But those moments are wonderful and we just have to hope they come more and more often as they grow. 🙂

  3. Lizbeth says:

    Ditto on the communication issues. We were told by our speech pathologist that it may take up to 100 repeats of a request–of me saying, “if you want milk then you have to say: Mom, I want milk please.” for it to stick. And even then it’s only applicable for milk, you have to do the same thing for juice, cereal, etc. For our case we found it to be pretty spot on. Sigh. I find myself day in and day out teaching/role playing/ modeling, appropriate communication techniques so that he can get it right.

    See, you made me think (brain hurting in a good way!) and now I’ll have something to ponder when I get a second to myself. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      100?! Now you’ve given me something to ponder! I just do not want to believe that is true!! Here’s to hoping it’s just for a certain time period and then they will develop more as they get older. I’m sure it’s an individualized thing (the spectrum). We will all just have to hope for the best.

  4. Rhonda Logan says:

    My son is 16… echolalia never left for us. However, he has developed VERY function-able language. We speak in mostly conversation mode. However echolalia is, i believe, a form of comfort to him when he starts to get nervous, stressed etc.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Rhonda. So glad you came here and gave us such a good and positive outlook. I’d be happy to deal with the echolalia as a form of comfort instead of the norm!

  5. I love the phone analogy.

  6. Our son just saw a box of cookies, and said “cookies right now!” Original thought AND appropriate. He also just said “Oh shoot” when he lost a shoe and fell into a puddle. We’re also hoping for that. I have the bonus of being an EC teacher, teaching middle school students with autism, and they can talk in conversations, so that adds hope too. It’ll come.

  7. Beautiful analogy and well written! It’s like you took the words straight from my heart. My heart aches to hear the constant repetition and echolalia because I know our son has so much more to say. Though, I take comfort in the fact that he can speak! He has learned to use echolalia to his advantage. While he may be repeating a phrase from a movie, he uses it in the most appropriate way possible. His favorite at dinner time, “Gotta go! Dinner rush!” (from Ratatouille) While he still has those phrases that come from out of nowhere, (“E bach, no Nano!”– as if he were speaking Klingon) I try so desperately to determine what he is trying to say to us when he speaks them because I know they make sense to him somehow. While I’m not always successful at figuring out that piece of his puzzle, the days that I am, are gifts from God.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks so much Kathryn! It’s funny how they can use the echolalia for a purpose. My son has started “morphing” his echolalia into appropriate channels too! To me, it just shows he’s tuned in to how to make it relevant and is trying to get there.

      I know what you mean about figuring out the puzzle – it is an amazing feeling!

  8. eof737 says:

    “With each step toward using language to convey who he is, I will slowly know my son better. ” I will hold onto that beautiful thought… and time will reveal its blessings. 🙂

  9. Grace says:

    Your last two posts have been amazing. I’ve read them both on my phone while on the go, and I haven’t been able to formulate a comment worthy of either of them while running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But if I don’t say something now, I will miss my chance and be forced to forever hold my peace. You are an amazing writer. If I had more time and functioning brain cells, I would say more because you sooo deserve it.

    I haven’t gotten to today’s post yet, but I will as soon as I have a minute to breathe. Promise!

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