Monday, December 17, 2012


"Free encouragement" at the counter of Paper Kite Books in Kingston, PA
Photo taken by me, October 2011
Echolalia is the repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or sounds of the speech of others. Children with [autism spectrum disorder] often display echolalia in the process of learning to talk. Immediate echolalia is the exact repetition of someone else's speech, immediately or soon after the child hears it. Delayed echolalia may occur several minutes, hours, days, or even weeks or years after the original speech was heard. Echolalia is sometimes referred to as "movie talk" because the child can remember and repeat chunks of speech like repeating a movie script. Echolalia was once thought to be non-functional, but is now understood to often serve a communicative or regulatory purpose for the child. Also known as: "Movie talk", Scripting Related term: Repetitive use of language  ~ from Autism Speaks
1. My migraine raged long into last night. Despite the medicine that usually helped ease such woes, sleep was elusive.

I had read too much about the Connecticut school shooting, about people proclaiming to be other people's mothers, about what our school district is doing about the "non-credible, third-hand" rumor of a planned shooting at our local high school.

I had seen too many pictures of too many beautiful, now gone children and their heartbroken parents.

I had watched my President, and I explained to my children why I was crying while I was watching the President.

* *
2. Some poetry, then.

Dan Waber's slim volume echolalia rested on my nightstand. I'd met Dan more than a year ago, when I stopped in Paper Kite Press (his small gem of a store) during some business trip downtime.

We talked poetry - and more - that day. Dan gave me "free encouragement" from a box on the counter. (Because we all need free encouragement, don't we?)  I selected echolalia from the small shelf, mentioning why the title intrigued me, knowing I was going to buy it.

"My son has autism," I explained. "He was ... he had echolalia for awhile."

Dan's poems sat on my own bookshelves, unread until last night. I made my way with them into the guest bedroom and settled into the bed and read.

And read.

Dan's poems, as I suspected, have little to do with autism or the echolalia that I'm familiar with. What these poems are is a love story to Dan's wife Jennifer, a poet in her own right. They're a love story about the ephemera that make up the everyday - chopping mushrooms for dinner, cats fussing about, a glance of the swish of hips, crazy neighbors, doing the dishes, a rejection letter in the mail, picking up a child from school.

Picking up a child from school.

Their love is palpable and you smile as you read these poems (at least, I did) and I found my heart and breath slowing down, finally, for a moment, in these troubled times, in that midnight hour, in our darkened house.

(As John Lennon says in "Mind Games," love is the answer and you know that for sure. Wise man, that John.)

And at the end of Echolalia, Dan Waber reveals the echolalia part of his poems in the After Words section of the chapbook.
"Every poem in this collection contains an "echo" made by reading the last word of each line, in a downward fashion. With one exception, every echo was written or spoken by poet (and love of my life) Jennifer Hill-Kaucher. Some come from poems or fictions she has written (some of which have been published by FootHills Publishing) but many come from places as mundane as jotted notes and SMS text messages." 
I fell asleep wondering how I could better capture the echoes of the important people in my life.

* *
3.  I woke up, as I do, checking my own text messages and Facebook statuses and job postings on my phone.

And there it was, an offensive-to-me post from a Facebook friend so full of misunderstanding and misconceptions, parroting the oft-heard talking points, perpetuating stigmas about people with disabilities.

Coffee in hand, I sat down to bang out a response. At 6:30 a.m.

In the living room, my boy was counting down the days until Christmas, until Santa, until our trip to Philadelphia. He has his agenda, his routines, his traditions all set, ready and rarin' to go.

"I am just FILLED with the SPIRIT of CHRISTMAS!" he exclaimed.

I had a choice. Fight with the friend in the name of educating him about people with disabilities - because I should do that, right? My autism mom friends would certainly do that. I'd be letting them down - and the entire population of people like my son, too - if I let this abhorrent behavior continue unabated, if I gave up, if I let him go on believing that people with autism were brats at heart and just deserved a whack on the ass.

Or. I could just BLOCK FRIEND and listen to my son being filled with the spirit of Christmas.

Echolalia? Yeah, probably.

Truth be told, the echolalia from when Boo was two (and 3, and 4, and 5 ...) still makes its presence known on occasion around here. It's rare, and when it does, it's masked, making it especially hard to tell whether it is his words or something he heard from a movie or one of the YouTube videos he spends forever watching.

Because it kind of blends into the ephemera of this thing we call life.

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Lisa Gradess Weinstein said...

Hi Melissa - sometimes it's better to just remove a so called "friend" that wasting time on an explanation that will probably not just his mind. I think you did the right thing by blocking this person from your life and focusing instead on your son's happiness! Good for you! Just love your writing! Lisa

Anna Murakami said...

Sometimes I ask the same question a billion times because I think you didn't get it.

Adrienne said...

Loved your post. I just wanted to keep reading. It feels good to choose to focus on our kids even when our distractions are so loud. Good for you!