In my life, the first attempts at vocal communication came in the form of echolalia. I heard, stored, and sorted words and phrases that seemed useful. These came from my primary sources of communication – the radio, TV, and my family. Most of these sources were divorced of context – I had no idea of which words were appropriate to which situations. My immediate family were well-skilled in foul-mouthed sarcasm. Not the most appropriate sources for my echolalia. Trial and error were used to test out my new skill – resulting mostly in error.
The medical world sees echolalia as a problem / disorder to be cured. Language pathologists exist to help people with problems with language. But, for neurodivergent people, it’s not a “problem” or a “disorder” as such. It’s a mode of communication. Many autistic people do not do well with language pathologists because echolalia, for us, isn’t a disorder – it’s a different order. The pathologists attempts to “correct” often cause more problems than they solve. Parents get frustrated at their seemingly wasted money. As you will see, time, patience, and love tend to help more than vigorous therapies.
The years between birth and puberty can be a very frustrating time for parents and autistic children. Imagine having a new roommate who doesn’t speak your language and comes from a completely different culture. How do you get along? How do you set rules? How do you set anything? How do you communicate? Eventually, you each learn a bit of the other’s culture and preferred mode of communication. You figure it out as you go along, together, respectfully. The same holds true when autistics (children) and non-autistics (parents) meet.
For me, echolalia meant that I was pretty good at mimicry. In my multi-ethnic / multi-lingual melting pot of city and sschools, I now had a menu of phrases in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and Armenian. I worked hard at soundingcorrect in each language / dialect. Sometimes, the languages got confused in delivery – to the endless delight of my peers.
But, I found that I could use this style to amuse my classmates – adding accents and flair when reading aloud in class. I could switch from my “BBC presenter voice” to my “Mexican warehouseman voice” with amazing agility. (I continued this when reading aloud to my kids. They were just as amused 😉 )
On the other side, when my brain is quite overwhelmed, vocal communication was / is impossible. Pops, clicks, and other sounds (combined with blank / panicked stares) substitute for words. This is the same today, near 50, as it was when I was young. When I was young, it just seemed weird to my peers / friends.