There is not a worse or better moment…something he said was funny.
I’m not joking.
It was hilarious.
It was Monday. Monday is $1 Grilled Cheese day. It’s the heaven-sent answer to Monday mornings. I announce this fact to my children and my son says,
“Mom, do you know what my favorite thing is to eat with grilled cheese? Marijuana.”
I’m trying to digest what he just said.
I’m trying not to react.
I’m trying to put my eyeballs back in their sockets.
Then he looks up towards the ceiling like he’s thinking and ‘looking at’ the words and says,
“No, wait…I don’t think that’s right. That’s not the word I was looking for. Marinara…that’s the word I was looking for. I like Mariana with my grilled cheese.”
I know – that’s stinkin’ hilarious. Trust me, I laughed…I’m still laughing. So – this should be awesome, right?
Except that it was funny.
Except that he is a tape recorder (see Day #43 – Tape Recorder).
There is actually a word for this. It’s called echolalia. Echolalia is the automatic repetition of phrases. For the purpose of this post I will focus on ‘Delayed Echolalia.’
Do you memorize and recite catch phrases or movie quotes? My husband does. In fact, last night we were talking about me cutting my finger while making supper. He said, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” I, of course, just shrugged my shoulders. He couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t recognize the ‘famous phrase’ said by Jesse Ventura in Predator. Now we have a date to watch it this weekend, yippee. My bonus children quote National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation like it’s their job. What’s the difference? My husband and these children understand the appropriateness of this recall – when to recall, why to recall, how to engage others in the recall, and when to stop the recall.
I knew we were in for it because as soon as I picked him up from school he recalled all the people to whom he told the story. While we all do this – he will continue to tell the story over and over to the same people…hoping to reach the same desired effect.
Why may those with autism use this delayed echolia? The article, “What you need to know about Echolalia” provides three reasons.
#1 – Self Stimulatory Behavior. Tucker will continue to tell this story because it makes him laugh. He repeats the moment and the words because it was a moment where he felt original, funny, and a ‘starter’ of conversation. There is no doubt that he is funny – being funny makes others like you. So – he will continue to repeat the phrase to continue feeling part of the group.
#2 – Communicating the Mood. Again, there is no doubt that he is funny – being funny feels good. He will repeat the story often because he associates good feelings with it. To help him with this – I often redirect the conversation – while acknowledging the history of the funny moment. “Yes, Tucker – that was funny – what other funny things happened today?”
#3 – A Day in Review. This is a way for Tucker to process the memory of the day. Because he can have troubles developing his own, original language he will use the ‘most popular’ phrases of the day. When I ask him about his day at school he often replays conversations. He doesn’t tell me ‘what happened.’ He knows that something happened within that conversation that was important – but is not always able to pick out the individual detail(s). So, he recalls and replays the conversation so I can help him extrapolate the meaning.
The real question here is what do we do? Do we stop the ‘re-telling’ of the story for the hundredth time?
No matter how much of a struggle it may be to listen to it yet again. Retelling a story is a valuable skill and is rewarding to Tucker.
- It helps him communicate and make relationships with others.
- It helps him experiment with his voice and inflection as he mimics what someone else may sound like.
- It helps him practice context.
So, we’ll listen to the story – over and over and over again. You may hear the story over and over and over again. When I reach a point that I may get frustrated, I’ll be careful to remember that neurotypicals are not so different…