A few weeks ago, I was reading my BabyCenter email about "my preschooler this week." (Two is NOT a preschooler, I say, but that's another story.) It had a list of speech problems that could be a concern. On the list was echolalia. "Does your child call himself 'you' instead of 'me'?" the article asked. "Does he repeat what you say? Does he seem to be following a script for conversation instead of making up his own sentences?" Then it advised I talk to his doctor or a speech therapist right away about any of these problems, because they could be serious.
So, like any reasonable mother, I immediately leaped onto Google and researched the heck out of echolalia. Every site I read had a long description of kids who talk exactly like Marko does. Then it said that this is almost always a sign of autism spectrum disorders. I should be extremely concerned and take him to a speech therapist right away.
Then right at the very bottom there was a paragraph that would say, "Except, of course, if this is a toddler. Echolalia is normal in toddlers and peaks at age two and a half."
Gee, thanks, BabyCenter. You don't know much about my son, but you DO know that he's two and a half. Why make me panic like that?
Marko's speech is improving, and I know he doesn't exclusively repeat what we say, because he makes lots of grammatical mistakes like "goed" and "drinked" and "pick the baby DOWN!" And lots of the things he says to himself as he plays are very creative -- certainly not ideas we've given him. And he does say I and me sometimes. We're working on it. Unfortunately, I think he's really internalized the meaning of pronouns and thinks we're just trying to mess him up. He'll parrot back a sentence correctly, but if he stops and thinks about it, he corrects himself and goes back to saying it wrong. Sigh.
Here are some examples of phrases he commonly uses that exhibit echolalia.
"They are not comfy." -- means he peed his pants
"Could you help me please?" -- means he wants me to open the laundry room door. For some reason he has to bend over and touch his toes when he says this.
"Show me" -- means he's hurt himself and wants me to take a look
"I am not your Mama" -- this is what he says when Daddy picks up Michael. You see, in his mind, Daddy is his and Mama is Michael's. So if Daddy picks up Michael, that means Mama is Marko's parent-of-choice, and he is not into that at all. He wants Daddy. So this isn't intended to be quite as hurtful as it sounds.
"Do you want a pretzel?" -- whenever he wants something, he sounds like he is offering it to me, because that's what I say when I offer him something.
"You want me to say, 'Eat another bite, monster truck.'" -- He says this, and variations of this, all. day. long. He insists that I tell him, in character as whatever he is pretending to be, to do whatever it is he's going to do anyway. I finally realized why. I've been spending all my time prompting him to say things correctly (i.e. I instead of you), and he's doing it right back to me. So our conversation can go like this:
Marko: You want me to say, "Would you like some cheese, doggie?"
Me: Would you like some cheese, doggie?
Marko: You would!
Me: Say, "I would like some."
Marko: I would like some! Say "Here is your cheese, doggie."
And so on. Talking with Marko can be exhausting.
But I am not terribly worried about him. He is saying more and more complex things, getting across more and more original ideas, and getting the grammar right more of the time. We're getting there. So I don't worry at all ... except in the middle of the night when I can't sleep ... because I'm a mother, after all. What else am I supposed to do with my time?