In Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, I found a wonderful definition of echolalia; “the term of art for the way autistic people sample the speech they hear around them and repurpose it for their own use.” The book, as an aside, was amazing. It opened my eyes to so many things, particularly about Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger’s work. Alas, that’s a discussion for another day.
Most of Jake’s early language was echolalia. This is common with autism. Jake is uncommonly good at it, though. For years, people wouldn’t realize that he didn’t have any of his own language, and that he was instead speaking in Spongebob quotes.
Well, tonight’s story: We were all in the family Buick the other day when Jake was mumbling to himself in the middle row. This happens all the time and it doesn’t get a second thought. Not today. I really wish I’d been paying attention to the beginning of the sentence, but it ended with …because I’m having my period. That’s the kind of language that gets attention. Especially when it comes out of your fifteen year old SON.
We asked him where he’d heard that. He is smart enough to realize that he had committed a social faux pas, so he backtracked quickly and fervently. He gave us an assortment of “I’m sorrys”, “I’ll never do it agains”. The thing is, I honestly don’t think he had any idea what he’d done wrong, but used the tone in his mother’s voice to infer that he was in trouble. He couldn’t (wouldn’t) tell us where he’d come across this phrase.
We calmly explained that “having my period” was a girl thing, and that boys don’t say it. They don’t even talk about it because it can make girls uncomfortable to hear high school boys talking about periods. Brilliant parenting, right? Black and white is often the best route with Jake.
In his mumbled and repeated apologies, which went on for much longer than necessary, he finally spit out that he must have said it because he was “so drunk.”
Just when things were settling down and the younger two had quit giggling, we started right back in again. ANOTHER round of sorrys and begging forgiveness. Jake, we said more sternly, where are you hearing these things? Youtube? He didn’t remember. I told him that he’d have to go without Youtube until he could remember.
That jogged his memory. It was GoAnimate videos that he’d seen. He was sure.
Instead of being mad because, frankly, what’s the point, we had to repeat the lesson that it’s super important to come to Mom and Dad when you hear a new word or phrase to make sure it’s OK before you go trying it out in conversation. On the plus side, he used them both appropriately. Added bonus, we had to let his IEP team know so they would handle themselves appropriately at school, should he slip these gems into speech with other kids.
To be honest, I almost had to pull over in efforts to stifle my laughter in the driver’s seat. I had to cover my smile and cough into my arm to keep from laughing out loud. It was just the last thing that I thought would happen on a Sunday drive after church.
Always an adventure.