April is Autism Awareness Month: What I’m Doing to Spread Awareness

Let me begin by saying that in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I have decided that for 30 days I will post something new and educational about Autism on my Facebook page. Today my post was as follows:

Day One-Autism Awareness and Education: Echolalia as defined by Dictionary.com: 1. *Psychiatry*: the uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person. 2. the imitation by a baby of the vocal sounds produced by others, occurring as a natural phase of childhood development.

This definition is very misleading because it says the “immediate repetition.” The repetition does not have to be immediate. The repetition can be months in the future or even years. It can be several hours later or happen right at that moment. This also suggests that this phenomenon is “uncontrollable.” While this is true some of the time, it is not true all of the time. Sometimes, the repetition is actually used as part of effective communication, however what is “uncontrollable” about it is the ability to stop repeating the word or phrase once it’s been said the first time. 

Another reason this definition is misleading is because of the second part, “the imitation by a baby.” The imitation of sounds that a baby makes when first learning to speak is nothing like true Echolalia. The reason for this is that a baby is learning effective ways to communicate. Someone who experiences Echolalia isn’t always trying to effectively communicate or sometimes they are and they just can’t get the right words to come out in the right order, so almost like a robot, they mimic those words. A baby who is mimicking the sounds of those around them will use them to eventually create full sentences, even if those sentences are only three words long. Someone who experiences Echolalia may never speak a full sentence or if they do, it might be a sentence that they heard somewhere else. *I’ve often been told that my son’s Echolalia is good because eventually he will start having real conversations with me. I don’t like to be told that because it’s not true. He may never have a real conversation with me and telling me that it’s good that he has Autism and that he has so much trouble finding his voice doesn’t help. Now, if you’d like to aid in helping him find his voice by listening when he does speak, please be my guest. I always love it when someone is willing to help him as I do.

Here are some examples of Echolalia that I’ve heard my own son use:
“Only at Walmart.” (He might say this if he wants to go to the store).
“TBS. Very Funny.” (He might say this if he thinks something is funny).
“WGN America (Amerkicka).” (He used to say this when he saw an American flag at his school, but hasn’t said it in a long time).

There are plenty more that we hear and sometimes they come directly from songs, but I often wonder what exactly is my son thinking when he experiences Echolalia because while he does repeat these phrases, he usually repeats them exactly as he’s heard them and over and over several times.

End of Post.

I have decided to put this post here to further spread Autism Awareness. My goal for Light It Up Blue is to wear blue tomorrow and spread Autism Awareness by educating the public about different aspects of Autism. Along with this I have begun a journey to help people like my own son who are considered non-verbal to find their voice using American Sign Language.

How am I helping non-verbal Autistic people find their voice?

The first step in this journey has been to learn American Sign Language. Those who read my blog know that I am a part time instructor of composition. As a result, I am not entitled to any benefits, however, just this past August, my husband was hired for a full time position at the university where we both work. He is now a full time online instructor of composition, which includes teaching a technical writing class in the spring semesters. This benefits our family greatly because since I am married to a full time employee, that means that I have access to health insurance as well as being able to take tuition free classes. I do this by filling out a form that my husband must sign that transfers his tuition free courses to his spouse or dependent. It’s a really sweet deal and saves us a lot of money as I have begun this journey.

This semester I am teaching two English 102 classes (the focus is on writing argumentative research papers). However, I am also taking ASL 101, which covers the first four units of the book Signing Naturally. It’s been an interesting experience and as I’ve learned more sign language, I have been using it more with my son and his language has increased. Not only am I learning quite a bit about how to effectively use ASL with my son, I am also learning about Deaf culture and history. As a result, I have also learned about the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but more on that later.

The next step that I will be taking begins this summer. I will be taking ASL 102 in July, of course, but I will also be taking a psychology course titled “The Autism Spectrum.” It’s actually a senior/graduate level course for students of psychology, but I was given special permission to take it over the summer (June and July). During this class, I will have to do a research project and my intention is to follow this track and conduct some research on how ASL helps non-verbal Autistic children and increases verbalizations in non-verbal children.

This is what I’ve been working on and why I haven’t been much of an online presence lately, but I hope that this month proves to be truly educational for my audience (friends, family, complete strangers who are interested) as well as myself.

I am also attempting to raise money to get my son a service dog because my son often “wanders” or inappropriately runs from his caretakers in public places. This is a dangerous behavior and one that is increasingly harder to control as he outgrows his own mother. Therefore, I have set up a First Giving page where anyone who wishes can donate to our cause. This dog will be trained in tethering (so that Thatcher can’t run from us), tracking (so that if Thatcher should run, the dog would be able to find him), and behavior interruptions (to keep Thatcher from wanting to run in the first place). Your donation, no matter how small is greatly appreciated and every dollar counts toward our goal.


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