When Wolfie was about two and a half he repeated everything he heard. This is pretty typical for most kids that age, but for Wolfie it was a little different. By age three he was still doing this. He said his own things too, but he repeated what he heard often. So often that his preschool became concerned that he was only repeating what he heard and not generating his own ideas. Echolalia. This concern is what started us down the path to his Asperger’s diagnosis.
Long before the word echolalia had been mentioned to me, I noticed that he would say things with the same inflection that I did in an appropriate situation. One of these times we happened to record on video. He had just turned three and was hanging out with Eliot, who is the sole reason why we have any video footage of anything. I am so glad that Eliot made these recordings because it gives us the opportunity to go back in time and see what others were seeing.
Eliot was actually filming Hammy, who was five or six months old, when Wolfie came into the room and said, “Do you need a paper towel?” This was his way of asking for one.
After getting his paper towel he went running out of the room. Eliot follows behind and sees that Wolfie is cleaning up some spilled milk.
Eliot: “Oh, buddy, did you spill your milk?”
Wolfie: “Oh, did you spill it? Did you spill your milk?”
Eliot: “We can clean it up.”
Wolfie: “We can clean it up.”
This was so normal for us.
Occasionally, Wolfie would say something totally out of the blue that I knew I had never said. I started asking him “Who says that?” and he would always tell me where he heard it. We had a lot of fun with this.
One day we got in the car to go somewhere and as we approached the end of our street I hear Wolfie say very distinctly, “Shit…..” He said it as if it were one word and kept saying it over and over. I stifled my laughter as I turned to him and asked, “Who says that?” And with no hesitation he replied, “Grandpa.”
Of course, Grandpa felt so bad. We saw them later and told them what happened and we all had a good laugh, but what was so interesting is that Grandpa had said exactly those words in the same spot on our street as Wolfie said them. He had forgotten about his soda on the dashboard and started driving when it spilled.
Now that Wolfie is older I don’t ask him “Who says that” very often and today I learned that I should.
He has been going to this play group therapy for about six months now. He has a love/hate relationship with group. He loves the other kids in group and he hates how hard it is for him. Specifically how hard Ms. T is on him. She is trying to teach these spectrum kids how to be social thinkers. It’s a big job and no doubt it requires some toughness on her part. Or does it?
Wolfie mimics everything. This is how he learns how to behave. This is how we have taught him almost every social thing he knows. We model it.
He has always had meltdowns or temper tantrums. These come from built up frustrations and over stimulation. We have been having a whole lot of sassiness, back talk, and just general rudeness coming from him. These are learned behaviors. I could talk for days about all the places where both of my children pick up on bad behaviors. Never did I think one of these places would be group and the one teaching the behavior would be the therapist.
He has been snapping in people’s faces when they start talking and he doesn’t want them to. And he cuts people off by saying really loudly “Ah!” He only does these things when someone is saying something he doesn’t want to hear or if he is under the impression that you have just interrupted him.
So, today was a group day and he announced that he didn’t want to go. Actually he refused to go and said he wants to quit. I told him that we could discuss it when he felt that he could tell me what was bothering him. Right away he said he didn’t like Ms. T. This is nothing new. I asked him why and he said she is hard on him.
I asked him what she does that makes it hard for him.
Wolfie: “Well, she does this.” He snaps in my face.
Me: “Ms. T does that to you? When does she do that?”
Wolfie: “When I am not paying attention or not listening.”
At this point I am just floored. I mean, we have been trying to figure out for months where this behavior came from and how to solve it. It has been an absolute nightmare.
If there is one thing I have learned from raising an Asperger’s kid it is that our words and our actions mean everything. Wolfie picks up on everything and doesn’t have a well developed filter that can tell him which things to keep. So he keeps it all.
I really believe that Ms. T thinks that those tactics are effective for getting the kids attention and for that purpose I am sure they are. Wolfie is afraid of crossing her because he doesn’t like how stern she is. But he is not afraid to mimic her in situations that seem similar to him. The obvious problem with her approach is illustrated by the story above.
As a parent, I struggle with the pressure to participate in therapies designed to help Wolfie integrate better. They are expensive and no one really knows how much of it helps. There really isn’t a way to measure it. Did I mention they are expensive? I have put my faith and my little boy in the hands of many therapists over the years and have never liked the feeling I get when I let him go behind a closed door without me. I hate that this experience has given that feeling a stronger edge and I am sad to think that the one thing I am certain he is getting out of group is something that is distasteful and disrespectful. Ugh.