Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Today, I love scripting...

Scripting, repeating, echolalia... whatever you want to call it. Today, I am very happy to be hearing it.

Billy is the king of scripters.

He scripts repetitively (the latest grab of children's TV that is stuck on a loop). At the moment it's the Numberjacks. The accents are quaint and English, if slightly shrieky... that Shape Japer wreaks quite a bit of havoc. I'm constantly on edge, thinking all the circle things are turning into squares.

He scripts in play (entire episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, restaged and relived in the playroom, often videoed so then the video can be scripted, complete with giggles, dog barks and passing car noises).

He scripts events from our lives (this one's relatively new and slightly disconcerting as we have to be on our best behaviour now...  the events leading up to Mummy telling the car's seat belt alarm to 'shaaadddduuupp' is the current favourite).

He recreates moments from TV shows and from life in actions (echopraxia), which is hilarious when we are out somewhere and suddenly there's a silent cheetah chase from Big Cat Diary going on. Not so hilarious for the elderly lady wearing her fox fur, mind you, but thankfully many cheetah chases end unsuccessfully.

He has now taken to re-creating movies (echo-speilberg-ia?). He finds clips on the internet similar to the ones he's seen already, assembles them into logical order, records the voice over (with the right accent, of course), adds screen supers and moves on to the next one. The best bit is his approximations of the background music, which are laid in to the voice over. To him, the logic of the aural world is in what is heard, not in the meaning of what is heard. He gets the meaning, but the recreation includes all sound, not just language. Many movies include grabs of conversations, phones ringing, hammering sounds from the construction next door and the odd dog bark. Billy's like a human Lyre Bird.

While he's not an obsessive details man (one of the autism trends he has shunned), he is an eye for detail man. He misses nothing, and works out creative ways to re-present those details in his movies, his language interactions, his cheetah stalkings and his play. Scruffy has been called on, many times, to play the part of 'unfortunate second impala to the left' or 'quarry wall'.

I read a lot about echolalia. I understand the theories. I get the logic. In my internet adventures, I see a lot of parents saying, 'How do I stop it?'

I may be proven wrong, or driven slowly mad by the Number Taker's song, but I would say do not stop it. I would say work with it, use it, enjoy it.

Billy's journey to functional language has been echolalia dependent. He learned to speak by mimicking the language that came to him with the least amount of social and sensory pressure. That language was on the TV. We saw this, and used it to his advantage.

We discovered Mary Beth Palo's Watch Me Learn DVDS - a learning system for autistic kids that maximises language and social skills. These worked like a faith healer on Billy. He saw kids doing things and he memorised everything - the words, the body actions, the facial expressions. He took that data and he moulded it for his own use.

We took our own video camera everywhere we went, and my sing-songy voice noted everything useful (and some non-useful things... he learned a lot about coffee in those years) in simple, declarative language. He learned from that and started commenting on his own world. As his language improved, so did ours on the videos. Bit by bit, the loop closed. Now, he teaches himself, making his own home movies, and reflecting on his own behaviours as he goes.

Sometimes, it's like Billy's rehearsing. He starts and stops, matching the facial expression with the verbal. He tries to get it to match the image he has in his head. Sometimes, it's like he's trying on a new identity for size. Sometimes, it's like pure restorative pleasure. He digs it.

We have a very open dialogue about scripting (now there's an oddly post-modern phrase). We figure deconstruction gives him (and us) tools for conversation, understanding and behaviour management. We talk about where different phrases have come from, we talk about changing up the words and expanding the language interactions, we talk A LOT about limits/appropriate times and places for scripting/who understands and who doesn't understand scripting (this issue of understanding equity comes up a lot around elderly family members who are constantly complimenting Billy's manners without realising that they've come courtesy of Charlie and Lola or Phineas and Ferb).

The NT adults in the house do not always love the scripting, for sure. There are only so many times you can hear 'It's the Problem Blob!' repeated in the key of C in the space of five minutes. On a side note, I try in my professional life as a kid's TV writer to avoid all high pitched utterances, just to reduce the amount of times I have to listen to sounds that could cut glass coming out of my son's mouth.

We do not love it, but we live it. We see its worth, and we value (more than almost anything) its function in Billy's life. It works with his skills and abilities, not against them. It helps him make choices and improve his language and social functioning. It reinforces his knowledge base, and therefore his security in this world. It highlights the astonishing gift that is a photographic memory, and opens doors to future learning strategies.

With maturity, age and our help, I'm confident Billy will learn to manage the social aspects of echolalia. I am assuming that he will not be 35 and repeating news stories to anyone who will listen. He may, however, be repeating them to himself in his own quiet moments. He may also be repeating them because his impeccable speech and gift for consistent vocal delivery has earned him a career as a newsreader or a voice over artist.

Echolalia, to us, is like a symbol of autism. It's one of the things that makes our kid stick out likes dog's balls in NT circles.  At the same time, it is something that teaches him, extends him, calms him and gives him great pleasure. The same can be said of most children's educational toys, and I don't see any government warnings to mainstream parents on Fisher Price toys. Except for those odd mistakes with ambitious factory owners and cheap lead paint, but we won't talk about those any more, will we toy companies...

For the last three days, Billy's been in hospital, vomiting, wiped out. He's been on a drip, sad, sorry for himself and... quiet. No volume allowed on the TV. No toys. No scripting.

Today, I love scripting.

Later, when we go out, I'm hoping we don't see that old lady in the fox fur coat. I'm tired after two nights sleeping in a hospital chair and I'm not sure I have the energy to intervene. This could be the day the cheetah chase is successful.

Maybe you should watch the news, just in case.


K- floortime lite mama said...

OMG Valerie
I feel EXACTLY the same as you
In fact I feel echolalia is the scaffolding of communictaion

Lizbeth said...

It's always when they stop we're reminded how much we miss it...no matter how much it drove us insane a few days prior. I hope he's feeling better soon and the scripting continues.