Echolalia is a strange little beastie. It’s the ability to repeat, exactly what you hear without, apparently, even thinking about it. It’s almost reflexive. Some people do it all the time. Sometimes my boys are aware that they’re doing it, other times they’re not. Everyone around them, is very much aware that they’re doing it. It’s one sure fired way to have everyone’s attention, especially those people who are not familiar with this ability.
As often as not, it’s mistaken for cheekiness, or ‘having an attitude’ as we say out here.
I can see how this misunderstanding comes about.
I chat with my pal. I am a grown up person and so is my pal. My pal is American, which means that she has a distinctive accent. My children have some kind of mild Mid-Atlantic accent and significant speech delays. My pal knows about the speech delays. She knows the boys are autistic. Unusually, the boys are relatively quiet as they enjoy 30 minutes of electronics time, a bribe for peace and tranquility.
“Ya know I’m jus drownin in errands, so I cun only stay a while.”
“Drownin in errands. Drownin in errands. Drownin in errands.”
Pal glances across at the two boys whose eyes are glued to tiny little electronic screens. They both repeated the same part of her sentence, the bit that was most interesting or possibly most melodic. The both matched the timbre of her words exactly. Two sotto voce little echoes.
“Oh I know, but I’m so glad you came anyway.”
She drags her attention back to me.
“So I gotchya gift and I’m sure yur just gonna love it!”
“Gonna love it! Gonna love it! Gonna love it!”
She blinks wide eyed and looks back them again. Neither of them pay her any heed. They’ve knocked her off her stroke. This is hardly surprising. Few of us are that familiar with the sound of our own voices from the outside, or rather a listener’s perspective. Maybe you have trouble recording your own voice mail message, for just this reason. Our own voices never sound quite right when we hear them recorded.
“I’m sure it will be lovely as always.”
“Now dontcha go peeking before Christmas Day!”
“Dontcha go peeking! Dontcha go peeking! Dontcha go peeking!”
Her lips tighten, wary of uttering another syllable.
“It’s o.k. they don’t do it anything like as much as they used to.”
“Yeah? How cum they repeat mine but not yurs?”
“But not yurs! But not yurs! But not yurs!”
“Probably because they hear me all the time, too boring, whereas yours is so much more interesting.”
She pauses uncertain whether she’s brave enough to proceed. Her finger tip taps the tablecloth before she adds, “love ya guys!”
Silence follows. We exchange glances that mean ‘go figure?’ The boys move off to the bathroom in concert, still gripping their Gameboys. Pal stands to leave as we hear flushing noises and lots of general disagreement.
We step away towards the front door together, arms linked as I may not see her again for quite a while. Usually I prompt the boys through their goodbyes, but I leave it today.
The boys skate after us in their socks, unstable and skittish.
“You are goed now?”
My pal stands by the now open door, which obscures the visual cue on the other side. For the first time ever they are voluntarily here to say goodbye. I dither. Should I hide them behind me? Should I hide them behind the door? Should I thwart this first enthusiastic attempt? Should I slam the door in my pal’s face? I need to keep an emergency blanket by the door. She faces the boys still skating in their socks, only their socks, as they attempt appropriate social skills of the fond farewell.
“Er yes…um…Happy Christmas you guys!” she offers trying to focus on their happy faces.
“Happy Holidays!” they bellow back, because political correctness only gets you so far.