“What does Batman say?”

“What do the Fijits say?”

“What does the Wild West guy say?”   (A bank robber on a Pinball app…)

Do you see a theme here?

These are a few of the questions I get daily, hourly, minute-by-minute from my 5 year old son.  Wouldn’t it be cool if the underlying theme here was that he was asking me how to have an appropriate conversation with someone?  The reality is that he is asking me to engage in echolalia with him, so he can hear that phrase he wants to repeat over and over.  If I try to give him real communication, he will repeat the echolalic phrase himself and ignore the rest.

While NT boys his age can carry on conversations, my son does not.   I love him.  And, while I understand him, my experience is that most other people do not.

As a child with high functioning autism, my son’s issues are unique to him. I don’t know the age at which an autistic child, generally, becomes verbal, but it seems to vary, if it occurs at all.  I know of a few famous autists who did not speak until they were at least five years old or older.

That is not my son.  He has been able to speak from the beginning.  His speech is different.  He didn’t have it and lose it.  He has always had it.  The use of it is another matter entirely.  He doesn’t use speech for conversation.  Yes, he will convey wants or needs but not really thoughts or abstract concepts.

His use of speech is coming along.  But as a parent, I do confess that I cannot help but feel a concern with the gap that I see on a daily basis.  My son’s body is growing.  His conversational skills (really nearly non-existent) are not keeping up with his size.

Frankly, I’m scared of future bullying.  He’s different.  He uses words for purposes different from others.  He mumbles to himself.  He gets excited, in his own thoughts and will laugh, make faces, yell loudly and mean the words for no one but himself.  Yet, if you can get his attention, he will answer a question about math, reading, letters, phonics or any academic subject you ask about.

Appropriate to...

Watching the wheels spin.

He can play appropriately but for no more than a minute (literally).  The next minute he  will do the classic spinning of the wheels of a car.  He will push a button repeatedly in rapid succession.  He will turn something up full volume and blast everyone out.  He will dance to the sound of a dishwasher or dryer.

These, he knows...

He learned and memorized the names of four inanimate toy robots in less than an hour but still does not know the names of the classmates at kindergarten he has seen every day since August.  His classmates all greet him by name.  He fails to respond at all unless prompted and, when he does, he never uses their names, nor does he appear to know them.  Asking him to name his classmates in his school picture as an experiment, he named two boys and the teachers.  He could not name the 11 other people in the picture.

These children love him now.  They know he is different.  They accept him anyway.  He’s a lover.  He loves everyone, regardless of whether he knows a name.  He has a basic belief in the good nature of people.  He’s innocent.  He does not know how  to make fun of another human being.

The innocent love of a stuffed animal.

He knows how to laugh at himself with me.  He doesn’t know that others may, someday, laugh at him.  I don’t want him know that.  I know I can’t protect him forever but that doesn’t stop me from trying to do everything in my power to stop it.  Because love is like that.

In all of this, there is progress in conversational recall.  Usually, he cannot answer questions about immediate past events.  “Where did you go?”  “What did you do?”  “Who did you see?”  In the last week, after school, I pick him up and as we drive away, I asked him for two days in a row, whether he ate snack with his class.  “Yes.” he answered.  I was delighted but suspicious.

The first day, I followed up with, “What did you eat?”  He answered, “Strawberries,”  I have to say that I was beyond impressed.  This was not a rote response.  It was new information.  Something I never got before.  I checked later that day with his tutor by asking her whether he ate snack with the class and what it was – yes!!  Jackpot!  Strawberries.  Never did that word sound so good.  The next day was similar.  I got “Peaches” as the response.  Sure enough, checking later, it was what he ate!!

Progress is slow but amazing.  I can only hope that innocent acceptance stays as the progress grows.  Because if they held out in the right balance, wouldn’t that be a perfect world?

And speaking of perfect worlds, here's my version...


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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18 Responses to Conversations.

  1. kcunning says:

    Jake’s conversational skills took off around second grade. Until then, his classmates were so boisterous that talking and knowing names was just not important. He didn’t bother remember names until he started noticing which kids had DS’s.

    Around first grade, I stopped playing the echolalia game. I’d love to say it was part of some grand plan, but really, I was tired, pregnant, and done with repeating the same thing over and over again. He spent a lot of time in timeout until he stopped asking :\

    • solodialogue says:

      When I wrote this, I thought of you and Jake, Katie. I’m glad you commented because of Jake’s age, you always give me perspective and I thank you for that. I’m close to time outs but instead I’ve been telling him that I’m done and that I don’t want to hear the same thing over and over again. He gets it, so what does he do? He says he’ll say it instead of asking me! He’s good, that kid… and I try not to laugh. 🙂

      • kcunning says:

        I have one of my own 🙂 His son is 15, so when we chat, I get to see what my life might be like once Jake is really rocking the teens.

  2. Ahhhh…. I remember the first time Little Miss told me what her daily snack was. I was so elated and excited, I might have just fallen out of my seat at that point. It was truly a wonderful moment.

    Like you and T, we’re getting better (little by little) in using language for conversation. I still cannot get much information from Little Miss about her school day (our daily letter home helps a LOT) and the workings of her mind are mostly a big mystery for me.

    We just have to keep taking those baby steps and see where they lead us. Who knows, right?

  3. Melissa says:

    My daughter’s language is always a bit of a mystery. While she only started to speak last year, and has made a lot of progress (believe me, not complaining), there IS a lot of rote/scripted language. What is difficult is that she pulls from a lot of different places, and often changes up the script. So to the casual observer, it can seem like she understands more than she actually does. This issue for us isn’t that she scripts as much as it is finding out what the some of the individual scripts are meaning for her… and giving her the language that she needs. There are a few key ones that right now are indicating pain/stress/anxiety, and some that she pulls directly from circle time at school… and a few from TV shows for playing.

    • solodialogue says:

      I know what you mean. The scripts are a method of communication and when used for what they are trying to achieve, can be quite effective. Sometimes, I have trouble figuring out where they are coming from as well and, truth be told, I’ve been fooled by a script before, into believing it was some “original material” only to discover a couple weeks later where the script came from! (sigh) Words are words, though and I’m grateful for every one. 🙂

  4. Lisa says:

    Yes, it would be a perfect world…can I live there, too? So much of your post hit home…Tate is so similar with his speech issues. I, too, celebrate the actual spontaneous speech. I, too, answer several questions that are part of Tate’s echolalia. (His are “where” questions, though…) I, too, worry about bullying…We’re kind of dealing with that now….talk about ripping a momma’s heart out..

    • solodialogue says:

      The bullying is scary and in all likelihood, we won’t be able to hold it back forever. But it sure would be nice if the echolalia left just as those differences start becoming fodder to others… And, a cake and bacon world with no bullying would be kinda heaven, wouldn’t it? 😉

  5. blogginglily says:

    Emma, are you happy or sad? (Lily to her sister x 1000 every day).

    There are times when you describe Toodles that it’s almost EXACTLY like Lily. She’s getting a little better with “Hi” though.

  6. At Pudding’s old preschool in the US, they sent her home every day with a picture schedule where she circled what she had done. I found that very useful in stimulating conversation about her day. I wonder if the school can do something like that for you too? 🙂

  7. ElizOF says:

    Progress is slow but amazing…. and he is make plenty of it. Hugs to you and the family. 🙂

  8. Having a son with Aspergers, I can relate to observing communication style. Thank you for sharing.

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