• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”
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Autism and Echolalia—NO, NOT ME

I didn’t think that I still had echolalia, but I was wrong. As a child I constantly repeated lyrics of songs, and movies, what other people said—sometimes even appearing to be using these phrases of script in context. As an adult, I thought I do not do that anymore—oh but I do.

I always say I am stuck in movie hell!  Everything reminds me of a movie line and many times I do respond to situations by repeating those lines and phrases–word for word.  Aspie Teen does this too.  Even when I do not say it out loud, the lyrics, TV commercials, movies, or even characters from books play in my head.

Hubby tends to repeat movie lines too, but not word for word, and it drives me crazy.  The Teen and I always correct him repeating the sentences in the same manner as it was in the movie.  What I realized is that Hubby is taking the concept, rephrasing it, or getting as close to the lines as he can. He is repeating the “gist” of what was being said.  I am not!

Aspie Teen displayed echolalia during his autism evaluation repeating instructions (quietly almost under his breathe) while working on puzzles and problems, and is a “noisy” reader. When he reads (to himself) he repeats all the words in a hushed mumbly-type voice—but I had not put the pieces together.


When reading, I read aloud (in my head).  Doesn’t everyone do this? The words on the page are transformed to my voice playing in my head, repeating what I am reading. It is as if I am reading the story to myself. Doesn’t everyone hear their own voice when they read?  Sometimes, usually when I am trying to concentrate, I do repeat the words aloud. But I’ve always chalked that up to my trying to “learn” what is written.  It had never occurred to me that this could relate to, or a form of echolalia.


I continually believe that others do things, experience life, and think the way I do—even though I know this not to be true.  This “voice” inside my head that repeats all the words in my books is one example.  Hubby looked at me like was crazy when I told him about it.  Apparently, everyone does NOT do this.  It is such a normal, natural thing for me that I never considered that it could be different for anyone else.

I had a similar situation this past week while visiting friends and family in NYC, when I realized (for the first time) that other people do not use hot/warm water to brush their teeth!  I am still stunned by this.  My brother turned the temperature up on his water heater while we were there staying with him.  I told him that I noticed that the water was scorching when I went to brush my teeth.  That is when it happened—everyone there looked at me like I was nuts (once again), and an exclamation of, “Why would you brush your teeth with hot water?” came from somewhere.

Well, what do you mean? Doesn’t everyone brush their teeth with hot water, or at least warm/tepid water? Cold water hurts! Plus, we shower in hot water, wash our dishes in hot water, do laundry with hot water—why on God’s green earth would we NOT brush our teeth with hot water too?  I still have not gotten over this because it was yet another assumption that I made without even knowing I was making assumptions.

Only one of my younger brothers understood, who told everyone else that, “Brushing with cold water is like being punched in the mouth!”  Nicely put—he is not on the spectrum (or he may be) but he has many of the same sensitivities that I do.

I suppose avoiding the pain of harsh cold water led me to begin to brush this way, but I also prefer tepid food, and drinks. I can drink soda that is not refrigerated without ice—in fact, I hate ice in it (too cold) and then it slides down and touches my mouth and sometimes teeth—yikes, I hate it; no ice.  I do not like my food hot, or my coffee—I like them room temperature or a little warm. So here we have it again, it comes back down to my sensory issues, and mind-blindness.

So I have discovered, that yes, I do still display echolalia, and “normal” people do not brush their teeth with hot water! Why am I still surprised?

Oh and by the way, I still cannot pronounce echolalia not matter how many times I attempt it. Frustrating.

Echolalia clearly seen as a child: The Little Encyclopedia and the Stinky Cheese

BTW: I still repeat, “Milk is food.”

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Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.