When she was two, before we realized Pudding had any problems communicating, she would recite entire books. She had her favorites, and would ask for them night after night. I have Corduroy, Where The Wild Things Are, Madeline, and a few others etched into my memory too. Sometimes I still recite them when she gets overwhelmed, the words are calming to both of us- a shelter from the outside world.
In those days, Pudding couldn't answer a yes or no question. She was unable to make a choice- repeating the last offering, even if it was clearly not the thing she wanted. Back then, echolalia was mysterious and scary. It seemed like a real barrier to her language development. I was disheartened by scripting, and longed for those precious snippets of spontaneous conversation.
Since then, I've learned to embrace echolalia as the way Pudding learns language. It isn't an easy way for her, but this is what she has. Working with her is the only way that feels right. Her language skills continue to improve; not in the giant leaps we'd prefer, but in its own way, like just about everything about her. We'll take it, gladly.
Though we've added some new books here and there, Pudding still sometimes enjoys to read those old favourites from time to time. Because she knows them by heart, sometimes she'll read them out loud to herself. Yesterday chose Corduroy. A clear favourite from her first birthday, when "De Cordugee" was her nightly request. Her very first special interest. She read, using the same intonations as me. The story is so soothingly familiar, I was lulled into a kind of trance.
I snapped out of it, when she suddenly turned to me and said,
"Mummy, Lisa wants to buy Corduroy from the store. She needs money."
It occurred to me that in all this time we've read, and re-read, and recited that book, she didn't understand it until now. I knew she was only reciting, but for some reason I never thought about explaining the story to her. I'm not even sure she would have wanted me to. When I would ask her questions about her stories, she would refuse to answer, and get mad that I'd deviated from the script. She always seemed content to look at the pictures, and listen to the collection of words that always stayed the same. No doubt a pleasant haven from the tortuous conversations with real people that most be bewildering and overwhelming to those with auditory processing difficulties.
Not so long ago, she would just keep asking and asking for something that we'd run out of, not understanding that I couldn't make it appear at will. Now she is letting me know that "we have to get some from the store," and while there, "we have to pay for it." Echolalia? Perhaps. But she is learning and using these phrases appropriately. She is applying them to her old favourite stories that she can now appreciate on a whole new level. I see that she is understanding more and more about this complicated and mysterious world.
Books might always be her refuge, but now she can appreciate them in a different way. She can even deviate from the script once in a while. Maybe this is the start of a new chapter in Pudding's story.