15 September, 2012        Echolalia

Not a word you hear every day, at least most people don’t. In my line of work it’s a little more common. My dictionary (American Heritage 5th Edition) defines it thus: echolalia: n. 1. Psychiatry The immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases spoken by others, often a symptom of autism […]. This is true, classic autism, not Asperger’s or ADHD. More at the end of this post.

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Meanwhile, in the three weeks or so since my last post – which I regret was my only August post – I’ve managed to take a few enjoyable (to me, as usual) pictures. I hope you enjoy them too. I’m usually more chronological with my pictures. But I just took this one just a couple of days ago and I love it.

Stunning late summer scene

On my last post (August 23, Recovery Week! Happy Birthday to me!) I put up a nice picture of a female tiger swallowtail butterfly. You can tell (I learned) the females since they have blue trailing edges on their wings. And they’re larger. I got this picture of a male in late August. If you compare the two pictures, you’ll see how much more graceful the female is. She (the female tiger swallowtail) also chose a nicer background. Graceful and elegant. But here’s the male; he looks nice too:

Very, very handsome

To go to the complete opposite end of the graceful/delicate scale, I present you this rare image (there just weren’t a whole lot of these made) of a GE AC6000CW locomotive. It is rare, I’m not even kidding. CSX only has a little over 100 units. By comparison, CSX has over 600 units of their main coal hauler, the similar but less powerful AC4400CW. They look a lot like an AC4400, only longer. With CSX they’re easy to identify because they all have a 3 digit number that begins with “6”. They’re the only CSX locomotives that have a number beginning with “6”. At 6,250 HP, the AC6000 is among the most powerful locomotives ever manufactured. It’s not likely a more powerful locomotive will ever be built. This is unlikely ever to be mistaken for a butterfly:


I admire a great deal of Eastern religious thought, and the idea of staying in the present. But as soon as I flipped my calendar to September I began thinking about summer going away and became obsessed with flowers. They’ll be gone soon. At least until spring. In Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard (1978) he was returning home after working at being in the moment for his whole trip. He had just spent two months trekking in the Tibetan region of the Himalayas. He wrote “With the wind and the cold, a restlessness has come, and I find myself hoarding my last chocolate for the journey back across the mountains – forever getting-ready-for-life instead of living it each day.” When I start furiously photographing late-season flowers like this I feel like I’m “getting-ready-for-life instead of living it each day.” But I slow down and appreciate the flowers when I see them. This was a beauty I saw at the river a week or so ago:

Beautiful late summer Rose of Sharon. With ants!

Same day:

So much pretty color for September

Of course, not all of the plants there have chlorophyll. I saw this enormous fungus the same day too. Look at the two dog leashes for comparison:

As my Dad is fond of saying, “There’s a fungus amungus!”

I always think of spring as the time for colorful flowers. But I photographed all the flowers in this post in September. Which at this point is still summer by the calendar, but school is back in, and daylight is more than two hours shorter than in mid-June. Wow. It feels distinctly like early autumn. The flowers don’t smell as much, that’s for certain – hyacinths have been gone nearly six months, and honeysuckle is long gone as well – but look at all this color:

As bright as a daffodil, cheerful as a forsythia, glowing like a dandelion

I can’t think of a flower this red at ANY time of year. Not at Pony Pasture, anyway.

In more mundane news, I’m wrapping up the second “recovery week” of my thirteen week “Ironman” training program. That means this is the end of Week 8; race day is five weeks from today, on Saturday, October 20 in Wilmington, NC. For those who have missed it to this point (it seems impossible, but what the heck) here’s a link to the race: PPD Beach2Battleship

Each recovery week (they fall every 4th week of training) calls for 2 brief swims, 2 brief bike rides and 2 brief runs. Today Evelyn and I went out and rode at West Creek; the weather was beyond compare. On the way home we stopped for the first time – I can’t believe I’ve never stopped before – at Jim & Robin’s West End Plants and Produce. 12301 Patterson Ave., just east of West Creek, on the other side of Patterson. We got a dozen brown eggs, a melon, a bunch of other produce, etc. Peaches, apples, jelly, honey, mmm. They have gorgeous pumpkins too. But – best of all – we got a half-gallon of ice cold apple cider. And had a few gulps right there in the parking lot. After that ride it was out of this world.

Here’s a picture through my bike:

Jim & Robin’s West End Plants and Produce
12301 Patterson Ave.

These mums were just wonderful:


I also got this lucky autumn image there:

Boy. I know it’s still summer by the calendar, but this is a pure autumn image.

Here’s a little bit about some of the people I spend time with most days. We all communicate in different ways. These guys are my friends and they always help me communicate more effectively. It’s fun to be out in the community with them too; they help expand everyone’s ability to communicate. We go to the Tuckahoe YMCA, to Martin’s, Starbucks, 5 Guys, 3Sports, 7/11, the Westbury Pharmacy, all over town. It is heartwarming and encouraging to see the way my friends engage and interact with everyone they meet. It’s always refreshing in a world that can be  cynical and jaded.

Have a great day,


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I hear so much echolalia that the first time I heard it doesn’t stick out; it’s been ten or fifteen years. If you spend time with people with autism, what you say will be repeated by them, with an accuracy that sounds like a tape recorder. Not just the words you say – those will be precise – but the pitch, intonation, frequency, everything.

An experience with echolalia that stands out occurred years ago when I was just beginning work with a young man. This was around seven years ago, and I continue with him each week. Some people where he was staying were having a difficult time. Although he can speak, it is difficult for him to come up with his own words to express emotion. But he understands emotions. He was just moving in to a group home when we met. Some nights he spent at the group home and other nights at his family’s house. We were heading out and I said “Are you spending the night at your family’s house or at your house?” His reply: “Your house.” He “echoed” the end of my sentence – classic echolalia.

Once he was frustrated with me because he wanted to go to Lewis Ginter and I wanted to go to Maymont. We hadn’t learned to communicate well at this point; it was early in our friendship. To express his frustration – he could only have heard this from people he lived with – he blurted out “Lord, God, Jesus!!!”

I’ve worked with another guy with autism for more than a decade. Once we were walking in Regency Square on a cold and rainy day before Christmas. The mall was packed and noisy. This fellow hardly talks at all, and when he does it’s nearly unintelligible. So we’re in that crowded and noisy mall, and you know how when you’re in a noisy place, for some reason there’s sometimes  a lull in conversation and everything goes quiet for an instant? That happened at Regency Square that day and he chose that precise moment to stop and intone “SUPPOSITORY” with the volume, clarity and precise diction of James Earl Jones. A memorable moment.

Another time I was at his house with him and he had to use the restroom. He always sat in there with the door open so he could call for help if necessary. He’s 23 now but he was maybe 15 then. After a few moments he loudly proclaimed “I’m finished!” Then he waited a moment or two and, in the soft, gentle voice of his father – who had died about six months earlier – inquired  “Are you sure?”

He’s not a dog-lover. Once we were hiking at Pony Pasture and a well-intentioned woman was walking her small, friendly dog. She brought the dog up to my friend and said “Do you want to pet him?” My friend stood up very straight with his heels pressed tight together and said “IT’S NOT GONNA’ HAPPEN!”

After listening to so much echolalia for so many years, I realized the difference between a comedian who does impressions and a person with echolalia. Gifted impressionists sound just like the person they’re imitating, i.e. George Bush or Bill Clinton. An impressionist highlights the tics in a person’s speech, the oddities that stand out to make it unusual. Think George Bush and mispronounced words or Bill Clinton being lewd. Echolalia is not like that – it’s like a tape recording. If you were facing away from the person, you wouldn’t be able to tell who spoke.

My life is not dull. Or unhappy. At least not at present! 

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About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
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8 Responses to Echolalia

  1. Grace says:

    Beautiful post today, Jay- a balance of summer and fall. Thank you for mentioning echolalia. Like you, it is something of which I am familiar but have not consciously thought about it in a long time. Enjoy the transition days of September- they are magical in so many ways. Oh, I recently bought apple cider, too. Delicious.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Grace! This one did come out well. Echolalia is an interesting phenomenon and it still catches me off guard from time to time. These transition days are easy to enjoy – the weather is sublime. Perfect for photography, that’s for sure. Another thing that caught me off guard was that apple cider – I was amazed how delicious it was. Even though I know very well! Have a great day,


  2. evzakyoga says:

    Those photos just keep getting better! And the apple cider was just what the doctor ordered – thanks!

    • I’m glad you enjoy the photos! There are three well-known “L’s” in real estate – location, location, location. The three “L’s” of photography are light, light and light, and this late summer/early autumn light has been spectacular. Beautiful, beautiful light. And I’m glad we stopped for that apple cider – also beyond compare! Thanks!

  3. I like the post, Jay. I love communication and the variances in which people make themselves understood.

    I wanted to say something about this line:

    “with the volume, clarity and precise diction of James Earl Jones.”

    Did you know that James Earl Jones is a life long stutterer and there were times in his life that he didn’t speak at all because of his sever dysfluency? As a life long stutterer myself, I find this fascinating that not only did he figure out coping mechanisms for this but went on to be actually known for his crisp, clear voice.

    Just thought you’d like to know!


    • Hi Emily,
      Glad you enjoyed the post – thanks for the suggestion about adding a section at the end of the post again! I’ll do it more often now. Thanks for mentioning about James Earl Jones. I didn’t know that about his earlier difficulty with speech. Since you mentioned it I’ve been reading about him in wikipedia – fascinating!

      Thanks for the comment and info, and again I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Have a great day,


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