For me, at least, Echolalia, like Squid, is a disability accommodation.
How I’m an Echolalia
*Sometimes when somebody says something to me. I respond with “I’m <x>” Where <x> is the direct object or last word or sometimes other patterns of their sentence. An article or other determiner is used if relevant. Example:
“I read your post about echolalia.”
“I’m a post about echolalia!” or “I’m my post about echolalia!” depending on what I want to emphasize.
The response is often done with exaggerated excited affect, the way one might say “wow, me too!”
*Sometimes I just repeat the last or other key word, replacing the opening consonants, if any with “squ”.
“I read your post about echolalia”
The response is made in an emphatic assertive tone as if I’m saying “Exactly.”
Naturally this sounds incredibly silly.
Why would I do this?
It lets me engage with an mirror what the person just said to me and communicate that I’m listening. I lets me emotionally express that I’m following the conversation and I’m excited about that even if I don’t have anything much to say. I’m used to using nodding or “ok” or “uh huh” or other standard acknowledgments as filler. They don’t guarantee any deep engagement.
I don’t think that “ok” normally guarantees engagement. I think neurotypicals fill this roll with body language and eye contact and other incomprehensible and distracting neurotypical stuff like that. I can’t do that so I do this instead.
Related Phenomena that are not exactly Echolalia as commonly described
*It’s very hard for me to put emotions in words without going through a stage of expressing them with appropriate song lyrics. Importantly, I copy the intonation and voice quality of the singer as best I can. I’m basically borrowing their expressiveness as a template for figuring out how to express it myself. It would work nearly as well to use any recording of somebody expressively speaking, but music has the added benefit of pulling emotions to the surface. (Which it seems to do for nearly everybody, not just me or autistic people.)
*I have certain exclamations with associated tones that I use outside of any context where they denotationally make sense. For example saying “Isn’t it?” whenever I agree with a statement in a certain way, regardless of the syntax of the statement.
“For squid’s sakes I just talked to him yesterday!”
“Yeah, isn’t it?”
It’s hard for me to generalize intonation patterns so it’s easier to learn them for just specific phrases and separate denotations and connotations into different words. Some of my phrases don’t really ever make denotational sense, for example the exclamation “Bats!” Bats is very hard for me to translate into text. I also don’t remotely know why it’s bats. I’m just copying, personalizing and using somebody else’s expressiveness. I learned bats from somebody else who is really weird and has communication difficulties, but not necessarily in an autistic way.
General Validity and Significance
I think other autistic people do this a lot too. I have an autistic friend who says “blecholalia instead of squecholalia.” The difference is which consonants are more fun, probably. Sometimes I say “blecholalia” around her, because it makes me feel closer to her. She has variants of most of the others, too. In particular we learn stock phrases from each other a lot. Other autistic people I know do similar stuff sometimes, but I know her the best.
I would be a squid if I didn’t mention Julia Bascom’s post on the subject of echolalia. It’s a lot more evocative and less analytical; I think it’s a complimentary approach. I think we’re talking about the same thing but I can’t me completely sure. It evokes a generalization of what I’m talking about, and I manage to concretely explain a few examples of what she’s talking about. Also, her post is really beautiful. Read it. Now.
I think Autistic people do this stuff a lot to better express ourselves. I think we’d do it more if it wasn’t embarrassing. Me, I’m trying to do it more. I think it would eliminate a third of my communication problems if I could use techniques like this freely, at the cost of looking really silly. Sometimes I think the single most important work/school/life disability accommodation I need is just the ability to reliably get away with being unlimitedly harmlessly weird, without being called disruptive, seen as less intelligent or focused, or bullied or laughed at.
It’s not the only thing all of us need, but I think it would be a hugely useful right for autistic people to gain for how little it cost society to give it to us. I think this is a useful generalization of being allowed to stim in public.
Cynical Theory about Human Nature
I think I’m starting to hate dignity, coolness and related social norms. Autism and developmental disabilities have been around for a long time. If culture seems designed to specifically oppress us, maybe that’s because it is so designed. (Or maybe evolved if not deliberately designed.) Fashion seems designed to require high dexterity and to be impossible to tolerate for people with tactile sensitivities. Language is more subtle than it needs to be; it’s almost like a test. Most “silly” things kids do actually make life easier. Talking like a litte kid is easier but unacceptable after a certain age.
It’s as if much of society is designed to weed out undesirables. We already know this is true about elaborate etiquete in upper class society. Why wouldn’t the mainstream be designed to exclude the worst?
If this is true then it explains why neurotypicals are so flipped out about stimming and such. Intellectually most people believe that everybody is human, but subconsciously normal people often don’t treat us as human. What if they have instincts not to. What if we seem like bad company as a deep evolved response.
It makes me worry that getting the most obviously deserved changes will continue to experience resistance. It makes me scared of what we’re up against. But I don’t despair. Society has conquered instincts before.
I need to continue this line of thought in future posts, but for now, this is veering off topic and getting long.
Enough of This Depressing Stuff
So in summery, I’m echolalia, because I’m learning to use words from other people and separating expressing myself from literal meaning so I can do what at a time, because both together are too hard. This is totally worth being really silly. And that’s what I have to say about that! Squid.