Marilyn, The Opera; or Life with Echolalia

Anytime, day and night, I make noises. It is one of my things that gets me through moments when living with being autistic gets tough. Perhaps humming, clicking my tongue, mumbling, or copying words and sounds – whatever it is, it can seem totally random, and nonsensical. For me it is just one of my Autistic Spectrum Disorder coping behaviours.

Copying noises and words is known as echolalia, and can present in different ways: repetition of a single word or a phrase spoken by someone else that can be repeated right away or at a later time. Palilalia is when the repetition is of one’s own words. A further distinction is that sometimes the repetition is automatic, parrot-like, and at other times the words may be elaborated upon.

Delayed echolalia is particularly interesting for me and goes a long way towards explaining some of my more extreme verbal behaviours. It is also the reason that my husband refers to ‘Marilyn, The Opera’ as often, in response to a given input, I will repeat catches of songs, or adverts that go way back in my childhood, or sing my actual thoughts. I also elaborate upon the words and make changes to suit the circumstances in an attempt to contextualise the situation.

Difficulties can arise when I’m out in public or when my ‘catches’ go on and on; if I begin to sing an ad from years back or a song that fits the context of a conversation I may be compelled to take it to the bitter end and there is always the fear that people may wonder where I’m going on this one?

It has been stated that, in many instances, echolalia can be an attempt to communicate. This may well be the case for me on occasion; at others it will be my way of shutting out external noises or external stresses.

Do you repeat words or make noises that you can’t explain? Or do you find it a comfort, or maybe it’s now a habit? Perhaps you know someone who repeats themselves or others and you’ve not understood why? Join the conversation. It’s a fascinating topic.