Importance of joining Nathan’s verbal “isms” or Echolalia

Nathan sometimes has echolalia or verbal “isms” – exclusive, repetitive behaviors. An example of which is saying “crystal” repetitively.

When he does verbal “isms” do you think that Nathan is trying to have a conversation with you and
A. Nathan is trying his best? Or
B. Nathan can do better?

If you chose “A”, you probably celebrate every attempt he makes and this will encourage him to try harder next time. If you chose “B”, do you recognize his hard work? or do you express your thoughts, almost saying “come on Nathan, you can do better!”?

I would prefer saying: Nathan is trying his best…and we can help him do better.

This video tries to express how Nathan might feel. In the first part, I play Nathan “isming” with the word “Crystal”. Kristine is asked to continue asking about what “Crystal” meant. She asks a series of simple questions, which to Nathan might feel like an interrogation.

In the second half of the video, Kristine is asked to join Nathan the Son-Rise way by repeating the word “Crystal”. I then try to express how Nathan might feel when we join him.

“Isms” help autistic children in many ways. They “ism” because:

1. It makes them feel better

2. It gives them control over the situation.
Nathan can never predict what you will tell him or ask him. It could be frightening for him. Remember how you were in your worst subject then all of a sudden, the teacher calls on you? That’s how Nathan might feel. For him to feel that he can better control the conversation, he will stick to one word, “Crystal”.

3. It gives them a sense of comfort.
If too many word are thrown at Nathan, it may become too overwhelming for him. As we have observed, he already needs a few extra seconds to process a question, what more a series of questions. The best way to relief the stress is to stick to one word, “crystal”.

4. It has a curative nature
While echolalia is seen as a sign of autism, it could simply be a prolonged phase that autistic kids have to accomplish before reaching higher levels of speech. Most kids will go through a brief, almost unnoticeable, phase of echolalia, which is important for them to recognize then understand new words. For autistic children, this phase may take longer but this is not to say they cannot go beyond this stage. While Nathan is enjoying repeating words, this may be creating new pathways in his brain that will become the highway to higher levels of conversations later on.

Bottom line: Celebrate his verbal “isms” by joining him. When he is ready, let’s challenge him to have conversations.