Echolalia and Minions
by Shannon Aronin on December 1st, 2015

​My boy is 8, and he is super verbal. He has a vocabulary that is in the 98%. The first thing people notice about him is that he is very smart.  I have watched total strangers as their jaw hits the floor and they are comparing him to Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory within 10 minutes. But we know that because of his attention troubles, the big feelings that go with a mood disorder and the communication struggles of autism, he has trouble applying that big vocabulary. Despite all the words he knows and all the words he can read and all the things he can imagine, I am still often left feeling like I am grasping for straws when trying to figure out WHY he did something, or in therapeutic terms, what is the function of his behavior.

One big challenge is echolalia. My husband is better at tuning it out. But I can’t take it. Some of my worst failures as a mother have involved me losing it over his random and repetitive noises. It tweaks my brain and I swear I can feel smoke coming out of my ears. He knows that this is the thing I cannot handle. He knows when he does it when I am driving it is very dangerous. And I know he can’t always help it. For the most part we’ve put it in the same category as other private things, something you have to go to your room to do by yourself if you need to do that.

He does very little of this at school or in front of the countless professionals who have tested him over the last three years. So when I express that this is a BIG problem for me, they are very confused. They may have caught a peak at it, but not really. I hate these little snippets of nonsense noises so much that by trying so hard to tune it out I rarely even notice when he is hooked on one syllable, or that one sound has risen in frequency. Thankfully my husband is more observant of this.

Recently the husband and I had an incredible opportunity to visit Universal Studios Hollywood for a “Date Day.” The tickets were cheap, the park stayed open late and we waited in few lines. The new sitter was doing great. It was a great day. My son would not have been able to handle this theme park very well yet, so it was a fun grown-up outing.

At one point, we pulled over to look at the park map. He suddenly looked up, like a dog catching a whiff of steak, a certain optimism in something as simple as lifting your head. He said, “Did you hear that? Coming from the loudspeakers? It’s the same noise Boo makes.  Be-do, be-do, be-do…” And for the first time I realized he had been saying be-do not exclusively, but a lot, for probably more than a year. If you had asked me to describe his most common echolalia noise I couldn’t. But this was common, and the noise coming out of the loudspeakers sounded so eerily like him.

Now we were on a mission – find that noise. We find a park staff member and I told him this was going to sound crazy, and we told him a little about our son. And we asked him what that noise was. MINIONS. That’s their language.

So minions, who have become so huge with the Despicable Me movies and just had a movie out called Minions, have a language made up of the sound my son has made, driving me insane, for more than a year, and I didn’t know?! So I cried in front of this unsuspecting theme park employee. I was happy, because this noise had a root other than the folds of Boo’s own brain.  And I was sad because we totally missed it. Later I asked him if that’s where he got it and he practically rolled his eyes with an “of course Mom. You didn’t think I was crazy, right?”
So here I am, alert as I can possibly be, and I had no idea. Makes me wonder how many other things I just miss. But that’s the thing. We are only human. Because special needs parents are hyper vigilant on more than one front usually, it seems we are surprised by the limitations of our humanity.

If you are a special needs parent, what’s the thing you can’t believe you missed for so long? 

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Carrie - December 1st, 2015 at 8:46 PM
Great post, Shannon! i missed so many things when I was first trying to navigate life with my special needs son. Was he just a mean kid who pushed or hit or kicked other kids at random, or was there some impetus behind the behavior? Since he had trouble verbalizing his thoughts and feelings, it wasn't until early elementary school that we found out about his sensory issues with sound (Boo's repetition of "Bedo" would have absolutely caused J to have a meltdown!) and his difficulty dealing with kids jostling him or touching him because he perceived those actions as an attack. While it was a relief to find out there were reasons behind his behavior (at least in his own mind), and he wasn't just hurting kids for fun, it has taken a lot of therapy and medication to help him deal with things that most of us can just tune out or accept. He still doesn't like going to the theater to see movies (too many noises going on with people unwrapping candy, slurping their drinks, munching on popcorn or whispering) and uses noise canceling headphones on car rides or when his sisters start singing or playing the piano.
Shannon - December 2nd, 2015 at 12:32 AM
I think a meltdown is a perfectly reasonable response to Bedo Bedo Bedo! I've had a few myself! Truly, the times I look back on over the last couple years where I flipped out and was just not the mom I want to be, it was almost always in response to the echolalia. I try to convince myself that it's me, not him, and I need to learn to adjust to him. But my humanity says NOOOOO! I can't take the bedo bedo anymore! I find it frustrating that Boo also has that noise sensitivity... but is also the loudest person and most consistently noise making person I have ever known!
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