Saturday, January 14, 2017
Echolalia from God?
Echolalia is the "meaningless repetition of another person's spoken words as a symptom of psychiatric or developmental disorder". Josh has been exhibiting echolalia since he began to learn how to talk. We've spend a tremendous amount of time trying to teach Josh to respond to questions with an appropriate simple answer rather than by repeating the question. For many years, if you asked him, "Do you want toast?" He would always respond by saying, "Do you want toast?" right back at you. With help from autism therapists, we learned to not give him what he wanted until he replied with a more appropriate response such as "Yes".
Even after many, many years of training and intentional assistance, when Josh is tired or when he does not know what you are talking about, he will simply reply to a question with a repetition of a question. A query such as "How was your day?" will likely solicit the response "How was your day?" because Josh does not know how to answer a question like that.
Sometimes when Josh is alone, I will hear him repeating things just because he wants to or maybe he likes the sound of a particular word or phrase. Last month, he was in his room listening to the radio with his headphones on. The quiet of our house was suddenly punctuated with Josh loudly and happily exclaiming "This year, give the gift of beauty!". Another day, I heard him say, "The season of shopping and shipping!" with a follow up of lots of clapping.
Recently, Josh was having his breakfast, while I listened to NPR on the radio and cleaned the kitchen. As usual, Josh echoed some of the phrases that he heard on the newscast. I don't know if this is just my imagination but it was strange to notice the specific phrases that he chose to echo.
During a newscast about the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria, Josh repeated phrases like:
"Many wounded people trapped."
"Children are dying."
"What do they have to hope in?"
It felt like some sort of emotional editor or a a personal prayer highlighter of the news for me. I was in the mode of semi-listening to the news while putting dishes away while planning the rest of day. But after the third or fourth seemingly meaningful verbal statement by a kid who cannot understand the news, I began to wonder if it was possible for God to speak to me through echolalia.
I stopped with the dishes, took a seat and waited for a minute. Wondering if I should pray for Syria, interact with Josh or turn off the radio, I just sat with the moment of pause. Josh also entered into the moment of pause. It was a rich, five-second moment of shared attention; plump with wondering and waiting. I felt like God had my attention for the first time all day. Then my son stood up and did a little dance of waving his arms and head back and forth. Then he went back to his room and shut the door like, "My work here is done."
Does God ever get your attention in surprising, unexpected ways?