Echolalia as Comfort

On a recent trip to the grocery store (which is often a stressful experience for me), this happened:

When we got to the checkout and started unloading our things onto the conveyor belt, I noticed that we forgot to put our lemon in its own little bag. There was a moment of inward shock as I realized this and worried about what I should do.

I said: “Oh, our lemon isn’t in a bag.”

Boyfriend said: “It’s not bagged.”

We figured there wouldn’t be much point in running back for a bag, so we just put the lemon on the conveyor belt as is. And then I proceeded to repeat “it’s not bagged” softly to myself. It’s not bagged. It’s not bagged. It’s not bagged. After doing that for a bit, I felt much calmer and was actually kind of enjoying myself. Boyfriend was having fun too, and was also occasionally saying “it’s not bagged” back to me. If the cashier noticed, he didn’t let on, and he certainly didn’t treat us differently because of it.

Later, when we got home, I would sometimes just start saying “it’s not bagged!” while bouncing and flapping. It ended up being one of the better grocery trips we’d had, and neither one of us was particularly drained afterwards.

Echolalia is the verbal repetition of words or phrases.

When I say something echolalic, my mind goes into a state of pleasant blankness and focuses just on the words. I feel light, airy, and far away from my worries. The situation feels simple and factual, and I’m able to be calm.

Usually, I repeat a word or phrase I’ve just heard (or said) that I like, either because of the way it sounds or how it sums up a situation or idea. In the case of “it’s not bagged”, it was both. Repeating a simple word or phrase is reassuring and comforting. In the above example, it helped me process something unexpected (the lack of lemon bag) in an already trying situation (the sensory overload of the grocery store), and turn it into something fun.

Even now, when I think “it’s not bagged” I get that pleasant blank feeling and remember the positive experience grocery shopping. It also reminds me of the wonderful feeling of acceptance when I realized that my boyfriend really didn’t mind me echolaling in public. He actually found it endearing and fun.

For me, echolalia also often overlaps verbal stimming (which I do a lot of, like really a lot). I first heard this adorable Korean song “I love Egg”  [watch the Korean version. Warning: flashing colors at the beginning of the animation] when I was about 16. In it, there’s a phrase that sounds to me like “ung pung pung” that I just love even though I don’t know what it means. Now, at 23, I’ll often say “ung pung pung” in the same cute voice as in the song when I’m happy or excited about something. Not only does it help me express the feeling, it also helps me experience the feeling. When I say it, I feel more immersed in my own happiness and excitement. And if I say it when I’m not particularly happy, I’ll actually feel a little wave of happiness.

So, in a way, both “it’s not bagged” and “ung pung pung” are about increasing comfort. The former comforted me in a stressful situation and now reminds me of that comfort, and the latter expresses and amplifies my comfort. Simply put, echolalia makes me feel better.

It’s an Us: Aspie Love

Since I’ve started reading about autism, I’ve often looked for accounts of relationships in which both people are autistic. I haven’t found many. I have found a lot of information on Aspie-NT relationships, which does make sense considering the statistics. Still, I know dual-Aspie relationships do happen, and I think it would be good to have more information on them. So, writing about my own dual-Aspie relationship will be a central part of this blog.

When I first met my boyfriend, neither one of us had any idea we were autistic. Still, we pretty much instantly recognized each other as “the same”. The same in the very fundamental way in which we were different from most people. I remember when I first met him: he had a calm, serious expression that didn’t change much when he talked, his voice was even and would sound flat to most people, and all he wanted to talk about was computers.

We became fast friends, despite the fact that friendship was never easy for either one of us. Within a few months, I was closer to him than any other friend I’d had. There was a sort of instant, natural understanding that we had never experienced with anyone else. We spoke the same language. We thought the same way.

There were so many things we didn’t have to explain to each other; we just understood. At the same time, nothing was assumed; everything was open for discussion. I remember, fairly early on, asking him if I could give him a hug. He paused for a moment and then said that yes, I could. Everything in our relationship was like that – talked about, decided, planned. Before we moved into our apartment, we measured all of our furniture and made a detailed layout plan in Google SketchUp.


Each Other As Special Interest

My boyfriend is my biggest special interest, and I’m his. The first few months of our relationship were spent frantically gathering every bit of information we could about each other. We quizzed each other on preferences, listened to each other’s histories, learned about each other’s interests, and discussed our thoughts on everything. Even now, after 5 years, we’ll jump at any opportunity to learn something about each other.

As a kid, I was often told that I wanted more intensity from relationships than anyone could ever give me. That I wanted so much that I would inevitably overload anyone I wanted to be with and actually push them away. But that wasn’t true. I found someone with the same needs as me. We are quite literally inseparable – if we’re both home, we’re together, that’s it.


Together, Not Socializing

One of the most interesting aspects of our relationship is that neither one of us considers being together “socializing”. Socializing with other people is something that, for both of us, is a very draining and often unenjoyable experience. But being with each other doesn’t cost anything – it actually gives us energy. We’re still trying to figure out exactly why this is, but after mulling it over together for awhile, we’ve come up with some ideas:

  • There is an absence of small talk. Communication, for us, is about exchanging information, so all of our conversations have information-based content (even if the information is just “I think you’re amazing and I love you”). We don’t talk to “make conversation”.
  • There’s no pressure to respond instantly. Our conversations are marked by long pauses in which we both process information.
  • We don’t have to prime for heavy subjects, nor do we have to make sure our content is socially acceptable or appropriately timed. For example, I once asked him (quite early on, too), about his opinion on euthanasia, while we were eating sushi. It popped into my head right then, and I just said it. This didn’t phase him, and we were able to have quite an interesting conversation about the subject.
  • There’s no reliance on non-verbal communication, and there’s no pressure to have an affected emotional response. We both speak quite flatly, with very little use of tone or inflection. We also tend to have very flat facial expressions and little to no body language. So, there’s no pressure to manufacture or read non-verbal communication.
  • There aren’t any implied meanings, contextual jokes, or sophisticated sarcasm to figure out. And if we do need clarification, for whatever reason, we can just ask.
  • There’s also a lack of emotional energy output. This one’s a little harder to describe, but I find it fascinating. We both find that many people constantly put a lot of energy out into the atmosphere, and that tends to tire us out. Neither one of us have that kind of output (unless there’s a panic attack or emotional emergency going on).

To put it simply, we don’t need to have any filters up when we talk to each other. It’s quite literally brain-to-mouth communication.


Some Other Awesome Things About Being Autistic Together:

  • We can have entire conversations where we’re both stimming and not making eye contact. These are often really thoughtful, interesting conversations, too.
  • Most days, we follow pretty much the same routine. And we both like it that way.
  • He never minds my stimming, echolalia, or clumsiness. And I never mind his.
  • We have a lot of shared special interests, and can happily spend hours on them together.
  • Instead of calling my name from the other room, he’ll meow to get my attention. And I’ll squeak to get his.
  • He gets why I want to be squished sometimes.
  • We infodump to each other all the time, which means lots of learning. I’m fairly confident that I could explain what a RAID array is, and I imagine he could explain the evolution of mammals.