“Although Jack’s spontaneous speech production has increased significantly during his time in speech therapy, he still exhibits echolalia far more often than initiating speech production.”
The above statement was taken from Jack’s most recent speech reevaluation, performed around the New Year. Echolalia has been a staple of our lives since Jack began to acquire speech. It simply became a part of our “normal”, on this detour from typical development that Jack is guiding us along each day. Echolalia is a normal part of speech development, typically subsiding around 30-months of age, but we’re obviously past that typical window.
Initially, Jack’s echolalia was brief, single words. As time has gone on, he repeats larger and longer snippets of overheard speech or TV shows. Now, it’s not that I think that his memory has gotten better, because I believe his memory has always been awesome. It’s that he’s able to recall that information in larger chunks. In fact, Jack’s memory is INCREDIBLE to me. The fact that he can hear something – like the schedule at school being read in the morning – and program it to memory upon hearing it once, then to be able to pull that and, albeit non-functionally, script it repeatedly later in the day is mind-boggling. I wish my memory was that good.
Any parent with an echolalic child can tell you that echolalia is a difficult thing to both deal with and explain to others. Especially with children – like mine – who have some articulation issues, echolalia can be difficult to the unfamiliar adult or untrained ear to pick up. Someone will hear Jack say, “Center time. Motor skills. Language activity. And then we’ll go outside.” That person will jump up and down with glee saying, “He’s talking! He said a full sentence!” Well, he’s speaking, but what was the communicative value in those words? He’s doing something he frequently does these days – repeating his school schedule. Echolalia is one of those things that you have to be familiar with to identify.
Now, I’m of the opinion that echolalia is better than no speech production (hell, it’s practice!), but the goal, obviously, is to move towards purposeful, spontaneous communication. We want Jack to be able to produce his own original thoughts. We don’t want him bound by the thoughts and words of others. We want to hear what he has to say.
Luckily, we are starting to get some of that. Jack can produce some 2-word phrases (the most common being requests/refusals with “More” or “All done”), and he’s emerging in his use of “I want” (after a year of working on it…yay!). It is these phrases that are spontaneous and – thus – what his speech testing is based on each time. Language-wise, he’s testing at the level of a 24-month old. His echolalia has dropped to being about 70% of his speech from about 80-90% of his speech a year ago. He also produces more speech – both spontaneous and echolalic – and graces us with getting to hear his voice more often, even if the words are not purposeful and are not his own.
We’re witnessing the evolution of his echolalia. We’re seeing more pronoun reversal (his echolalia wasn’t long enough to include the pronouns last year) and we’re seeing longer echolalic phrases. While one might say, “That’s not good. That’s just more of the same…more behaviors typical of autism”, I find evolution to be a sign of growth. I have to believe that changes in my boy’s speech – even the progression of his echolalia – have to mean growth and learning and development.
Why? Because my boy isn’t developing in a manner anywhere close to “typical”, and that’s okay. I don’t need normalcy. I don’t need age-appropriate. Evolution will do.