Nigel’s language development has always intrigued me. I have written previously about his use of echolalia to communicate and how it progressed through different stages over the years (stages that I identified and labeled on my own: please note that they are not “official”). The teachers and therapists who have worked with him at various times, especially in the early years, but even now, have often commented on his ability to take lines from videos and use them within the context of a situation.
Nigel has always loved the Disney movies, especially the animated ones, but at the age of five he began watching some of the live-action films. He loved The Swiss Family Robinson, and still does. One day, his behavioral therapist, unaware that he had been watching that movie at home, told me that when Nigel got angry at her he had said, “It’s my gun, you’ve got no right to take it!” Imagine the awkwardness as I tried to explain to her that he had taken that line from a movie. I wonder if she was thinking that I routinely left guns laying around the house and reprimanded my children when they picked one up. The movie scene in question was when the older brother took the younger brother’s gun away from him, and the younger brother was angry about it. Nigel said the line as a way to indicate that he was angry about being told to do something he didn’t want to do. When I explained the movie scene to Nigel’s therapist, I could see the relief wash over her face. Then she said, “I understand now! That’s part of why we call him ‘Mr. Association,’ because he’s so good at associating things like that.”
Quoting lines from videos is no longer Nigel’s primary means of communication, although he still likes to do it occasionally. He also likes to take words or phrases that he remembers from movies, TV shows, or something he picks up online, and try to use them appropriately. Sometimes he is successful with this, other times not. Today during homeschool, while working on subtracting mixed numbers, he did it seamlessly.
Nigel: I don’t want to do subtraction. It’s not really my bag.
Me: Cleaning cat vomit off the carpet is not really my bag, but it still needs to be done.
I think he got the picture.