Thursday, April 19, 2012

Echoes

Eventually, I may run out of quirks to ponder and chaos to control but I am not there yet. I was remembering today how Tate used to memorize jingles and commercials. When he was a toddler, we’d walk through the grocery store and see a character that represented a product: the Charmin Bear, the Kool Aid Man, the Keebler Elf, Mr. Clean… Tate would recite the commercial or the jingle that went with the product, word for word. He memorized songs, books and dialogue from favorite movies too, often with just one or two exposures to them. He had some great language but no conversation skills. He couldn’t answer a question but he could repeat the question. It is called echolalia and is common with autism. When Tate was very young, he would say “mommy?” I would answer “what?” He started calling me “mommy-what” and that became my new name to him. That was before we got a diagnosis. He was a little strange to me but so cute. Once we got a diagnosis of autism and I recognized the echoes for what they are, I worked hard to eliminate them. I must have said, “Don’t repeat” a hundred times a day at first. Tate stopped echoing others but then replaced it by echoing himself. He would either repeat a sentence or repeat the last few words of his sentence. He still does this fairly often. It comes and goes and may always do so. Many of Tate’s stereotypic behaviors (stims) have disappeared and then resurfaced again. However, if Tate knows it is not something we want him to do, he often tries to hide the stim. Now, he frequently whispers his echo. Tate is never punished for echoing or for any other behavior that is stereotypic of autism. He just wants to please me, thus the whispered echo instead of the echo that we used to have. He is such a good boy and he is trying so hard, it is just hard to fight the “need” to stim. I wish I was able to explain it but I do think I understand it, somewhat. It seems to be like an obsession or a compulsion. OCD is often co-morbid with autism. I do not know where the line is drawn between a stim and an obsession/compulsion. I suppose that I may get a better explanation as Tate ages and if/when we need to see doctors regarding these issues. I have heard and read some of the reasons Temple Grandin gives for these kinds of things and I would highly recommend her books to anyone wanting to learn more about autism. She has autism but has overcome so much and is a brilliant writer.

Some of the stims over the years were easier to reduce than others. There was the awful telltale sign of autism when Tate was two and a half: hand flapping. Hand flapping is the stim that I have heard about the most. It looked awful; and although, I had no idea what autism was, I knew that we were looking at something huge. I first suspected a mental illness. The first time I ever saw hand flapping I held Tate’s hands and told him that it did not look nice. It didn’t creep up on us; because one day he did not do it and the next day he did…. a lot. Every time he started I would stop him. I stayed in the same room with him much of the time so I could stop it as soon as it started. He did it when he was excited, bored or anxious. I was vigilant and persistent. It didn’t take very many weeks until he stopped doing it, because of all of my intervention. As I found out though, every time we eliminate a stim, another one takes its place and sometimes the new stim is less desirable than the one it replaced. I have learned to live with some of them and be quite happy that they are NOT others. 

Why do I want to eliminate the stimming at all? Tate’s peers will not find him very approachable if he is chanting jingles and commercials, rapidly blinking his eyes, bouncing up and down on his toes, making squeaking noises, flapping his hands and arms, or gnashing his teeth. When he is stimming, the stim is bigger than anything around him so it is hard to get his attention or interact with him. When he is stimming, it consumes him. He certainly is not going to learn anything while he is stimming. Stereotypic behaviors could be a magnet that draws bullying in Tate’s future as well. 


The longer a stim is “with” us, the more ingrained it becomes. One of the things Tate did as a baby and toddler was to fan the pages of a book. He’d get a book; the thicker the better, for him. He would sit on his bottom, put his knees up, balance the book on his knees, and begin fanning the pages at eye level. He could spend a large part of his day doing this. I had no idea why he liked to do it but he did and it wasn’t doing any harm, or so I thought. Now that I know what autism is I regret all the hours that I allowed Tate to “waste.” That time could have been spent learning. He was not absorbing information from his environment like a typically developing child does. He was not playing with toys and pretending. I knew things were not “right” but I had no idea what was going on. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Note: This seems to be one of my more controversial posts. A lot of parents think their children's stereotypic behavior is endearing and have told me so, often in very harsh words. Some say they have even been told by therapists and/or doctors that the stimming is something their child needs to do to express himself. That was not the advice I was given by Tate's therapists and doctors not was it encouraged in the books I read. Tate was born in 2001. I truly believe Tate is as high functioning as he is because of all the early intervention and all the constant education he was exposed to. He was not allowed to stim for long periods of time when he was small. Please, if you take offense by my opinions and/or the fact that I believe I helped Tate by discouraging the stereotypic behaviors, know I am not sitting in judgment of others who embrace stereotypic behavior. I have to do what I believe will benefit Tate the most and you have to do what you believe to be best for your child. I'd rather not hear from anyone who believes I did the wrong thing. I will not debate it with you. Thanks! Lisa

This post was written in 2012. You might like to read something more recent about a similar topic. Read Reciprocity

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