Category Archives: Echolalia

How we Communicate – A Podcast

*This was an assignment for English Composition to create a podcast about something you care about.  This is mine after many revisions and incorporating notes from my teacher.  A written transcript of the podcast is below, but if you can, listen first!


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Emma – 2016  Photograph by Pete Thompson

This voice?  The one that you’re hearing read these words?  Yeah, that one.  It isn’t my voice.  It’s my mom’s.  You’re probably wondering why a teenage girl would want her mom to read what she’s written.  In my case, it’s because I can’t read what I write out loud.  There’s not a direct line between my brain and my mouth.  It’s more like an elaborate maze.  I can’t speak so people understand what I mean.  If asked a question, my mouth says things that do not answer the question.  My brain doesn’t think in words the way most people’s do.  Names of things and people get handed to me instead of the words that would make sense to the person questioning me.  Sometimes I blurt out whole sentences from another time in my life.  (Emma’s voice) “I bounce a balloon to Emma.  I bounce it back to me.”  They may be images that remind me of the person I’m with or where I am, or words I’ve heard spoken by others, things that get caught in my mind, or unrelated scripts, but that convey the exact emotion I’m feeling.  (Emma’s voice) “No more ice skating.  Ice skating’s gone.”  In any case, what I manage to say usually baffles the people I am speaking to, causing them to misunderstand me.  Not being able to speak what’s in my heart so that others are able to understand can be challenging, but I can type things that I cannot reliably say.  There are computer generated voices that say the letters as I type them and sound like this – (Computerized young girl’s voice) “I am your friendly computerized female voice.  I sound like I’m maybe five years old.”  (Another computerized young girl’s voice) “Or I can sound like this and pretend I’m British.  But yeah, it’s just not me.”  Or I can sound like this.  Okay it’s not my voice, but with some direction, Mom sounds better than a computer.

Imagine for a minute that you can’t talk to people in any way that makes sense to them or you.  Imagine if every time you opened your mouth to speak other words tumbled out.  If you are like me, you might get used to not answering people’s questions or being able to stay on topic.  So what would you do?  How would you interact with people?  Would you ignore their questions?  Pretend you didn’t hear them?  How would you express yourself?  Maybe you would try to connect with scripts you’ve memorized, things you’ve heard other people say in similar situations or maybe you’d find non-word based ways to communicate.  That’s what I do.

(Sound of footsteps, people talking and the subway)

Sound is everywhere.  I don’t have a filtering system marking one particular sound as more important than another.  Can you understand what I’m saying right now?  Mom had to raise the volume of her voice so that you could hear it above all the other noise.  My brain doesn’t do that.  It hears all sounds equally and does not discriminate.  But some people’s voices are not as dramatic to my ear as the honking of a horn.  I love the sound of honking horns.  (Horns honking and traffic noise)  Favoring some sounds dilutes others, but music has the best sounds of all.  (Body Knows Best – Anya Marina)

Music is my first language.  It is a friend who loves me unconditionally.  It’s there when I need it and does not shed a tear if ignored for some time.  Music is a positive force as it stands by my side.  I like hearing the same melodies repeated and did so even when I was very young.  It’s been a comfort to me as long as I can remember.  Music grounds me and plays a huge role in seeking my creativity as it allows me to perform as I choose to.  It’s a way to communicate; it gives me hope, tells me I am not alone and inspires me to create.  Though people respond differently to music, I believe there are always emotions involved. Music has the ability to transform my fearsome thoughts laden with anxiety and stress.  (Music fades out)  It calms me and this has been the case throughout my life.  When singing lyrics I stumble and have trouble articulating the words, (Lose Yourself – Eminem) but I can remember the sounds I hear and recreate them with my voice.  When I sing I am not apart from, but instead am part of.

Music can be both private and public, but it needs to be loud.  (Music gets louder) No one composes music in a whisper.  My body needs to feel the beat so that I can be consumed by it.  (Volume increases steadily and then fades)  When that happens I become part of the music, like another instrument or an extension of it.  I jump and dance and move.  My arms swing or are raised up and my head bops, my whole body keeps time to the beat.  I’m transported to another reality and it is in this alternate reality that I am most happy and comfortable.

At home my need for high volume can cause problems because the members of my family have differing sensory needs that come in direct conflict with mine.  (Heartless – Kanye WestMy older brother has to have music as background, while I perform alongside, so it makes sense for mine to be public and his to be private.

(Emma’s brother)  “Yeah I think it’s totally fair that you’re able to use the living room.  It’s not like you play bad music or anything.  If you played music I didn’t really like, I’ll just shut the door and go in my room and hang out.”

My mom and dad both work at home and need quiet in order to concentrate.  I am told to wear headphones, which encumber my movement and dilute my experience.  My family has worked out a solution that allows me to commandeer the living room in the evening.  For several hours I am blissfully able to indulge my love of loud music and dancing while my brother stays in his room or hangs out with my parents in theirs.

Until about a year ago I didn’t know the joy of creating music.  Until then I was an audience member, but not a participant.  My parents encouraged my love of music and hired teachers to help me expand my interests.  Guitar is beautiful to listen to, but it is difficult for my fingers to recreate the sounds flowing through my mind.  Piano is also hard and requires dedication and lots of practice, but I think it’s a better fit for me.  Singing is easy and my lack of inhibitions, great sense of tone and ability to mimic sounds I hear makes it the best choice of all.   Eliot is my piano teacher and Karen is my singing coach.  Eliot came first.

(Eliot) “Emma has a great ear.  She can learn to sing new melodies really quickly and accurately.  Recently she’s been listening to the car horns outside and sings their exact pitch.  Emma is a fun, expressive and creative singer/performer.  She brings a lot of life, passion and feel to the material.”

Karen came next.

(Karen) “Emma has really great pitch control.  She knows exactly how the melodies go whether she knows the words or not and she makes it a real point to study each specific thing that happens in the song and can honor each thing in the song by movement and she can also emulate the sound really well as far as consonants and vowels.”  

(Gimme Resurrection – Anya MarinaKaren and I have great fun together.  I feel at ease in her presence, which is important when you are learning new things and trying to be creative.

Eliot and Karen have taught me to be patient with myself.  From them I have learned how hard it is to become masterful and yet I’ve decided it’s better to love the process of learning as much as the final product.  Communicating isn’t just talking, it’s developing a connection with another.  Music connects us all.  I wrote these lyrics and composed this melody, so this voice?  Yeah, this one’s mine.

Emma sings Over and Coming
Eliot Krimsky on keyboard

The girl’s going in the bed
the girl is going inside
the girl is going outside.

Who is this girl I see?
Who is that girl I see?
Watch careful-ee-ee-ey
Listen to me-ee-ee

Over and coming and over and coming,
over and coming and over and coming

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Find a way
to seize the day
Dare to be the leading girl!

The girl walks out the door
the girl walks in the door
the girl is a teenager.

I am the girl you see,
I am this girl you see,
Do you believe in me?
Please do believe in me.

I’m ready to fly if you let me,
I’ll go
Turn up the music and
just don’t say no.

Starting and going and starting and going
starting and going and starting and going
Starting and going

Do, do, do, do, do, do….

Acting Out Emotions and Pink Fingernails

Emma came home yesterday afternoon and showed me this.

“Pink,” she said proudly.  Jackie had taken Emma for a manicure.  And not only had Emma sat still for it, she liked it!  I’ve been giving Emma manicures and pedicures since she was a baby.  She likes having her toenails painted, but never her fingernails.   This was a first!

That afternoon we took the children swimming.  While Nic and Richard threw a football back and forth, Emma and I sat in the shallow end and Emma said, “No Sarah cannot throw the bottle.  Sarah!  You have to leave the room!  Sarah is sad.”  Emma then looked very sad and nodded her head.

Suddenly I had an idea from my conversation with my friend Ib, who has told me about her theatre training and how much that’s helped her.  I couldn’t figure out how to get Emma to act out the emotions she was saying, so instead I said, “Hey, Em, I’m going to pretend to be Sarah, okay?”

Emma nodded her head and grinned.  “Yeah, Sarah is sad,” she repeated.

I began to pretend-cry.

Emma watched me for a second with a little frown on her face and then she said, “Soufien is so angry!  Grrrr!”

I shook my fist and pretended to stomp my foot under the water while grimacing, “Oh!  That makes me so angry!”

Emma smiled, “Justus is happy!”

We went on like this for almost twenty minutes with Emma attributing an emotion to a child in her class and me acting out the emotion, though I did stumble a little on “shy.”   These are all emotions Emma has read about in the book – The Way I Feel – by Janan Cain.  Emma adores that book.  We’ve gone through at least three copies of it over the years.  But what is interesting is that Emma was taking all the emotions described in the book and applying a child she knew to each of them.  I don’t know that I’ve had a back and forth interaction with Emma that has ever lasted this long.  It was incredible.

When we got home, Emma donned her pink bathing suit, which also happened to match her pink fingernails, and ran through the sprinklers until it was time for dinner.  (Notice Emma’s string, which has resurfaced and she has added to in the past month.)

Today the Aspen Ideas Festival begins, so things will be a bit hectic for the next six days.  But I will continue to post here.

Cobra aka Daddy

Emma began calling her dad, Cobra a few weeks ago.  When she first said it, as in, “That’s Cobra!” while laughing and pointing to Richard, I had no idea why she was calling her father a venomous snake.  It wasn’t until later when someone said, “Isn’t that the social worker in Lilo and Stitch?”  that the mystery was solved, or at least one part of the mystery.  Why she thinks Richard, in any way, resembles Cobra is something we are still pondering, though I have a couple of thoughts. (As usual..)

Cobra, or Cobra Bubbles, as he is known in the movie Lilo and Stitch is a social worker, though he looks more like he’s in the CIA, with his dark suits and dark glasses, which he wears regardless of whether he’s inside or out and is bald.  He is also African American, is huge and speaks in a baritone booming voice and is in a state of perpetual displeasure, which he expresses with lines like, “And in case you were wondering,” said while looking over his dark glasses, “this meeting. Did. Not. Go. Well.”

Emma loves Lilo and Stitch.  She mimics Lilo’s bratty, high pitched voice and recites whole sections of the movie sometimes to comical effect.  Such as when the upstairs neighbor’s kid was running back and forth early one morning, Emma looked up at our ceiling and said in a perfect imitation of Lilo’s voice, “Aliens are attacking my house!”  It was a hilarious moment.  Emma, being the ham that she is, loved that I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe.  So when Emma pointed to Richard last Sunday on the way to the number 2 train, and said, “That’s Cobra,” then pointed to me and said, “That’s Mommy!” we asked her why Daddy reminded her of Cobra.  She grinned and said, simply, “Cobra,” before weaving her arm through her dad’s and then mine.  The three of us walked that way as Emma spoke in Lilo’s whiny voice, “We’re going to go home now.  Take the number 2 train and then eat dinner.”

By the end of the movie Cobra has become very much the family friend and is no longer threatening to put Lilo in foster care.  On the contrary he is intent on keeping the family together and has become their protector.  Which, my guess is, where the association with her dad lies.  Daddy, the larger than life protector of the family, kind and loving.

Daddy aka Cobra (Bubbles.)

To read my latest piece, Emma’s New Shoes, in the Huffington Post, click ‘here

And if you haven’t already done so, do vote for Emma’s Hope Book by clicking this ‘link‘ and clicking on the “like” button opposite Emma’s Hope Book.