Over the past several weeks I have noticed a new pattern in the way Daniel speaks. He will now say a sentence, then repeat the last part in a whisper (in a whisper). This is a speech disorder, or complex tic, known as palilalia. And, no surprise here, it can be found in autistics.
As I just noted, it’s a complex tic, meaning it’s not dissimilar to my own tics, or movement seizures, which are of course connected to my own autism. My movement seizures also developed later in life, so it’s not surprising that Daniel has developed this one later, at 8 years of age.
There doesn’t seem to be much about palilalia on the internet, so there’s not much I can discuss about it for the moment. I have found some discussions of its relationship to echolalia, but echolalia is the exact repetition of phrases and sentences spoken by others. It’s also found in autistics (and it something I’ve done for years, repeating things from TV and movies and integrating them into my usual speaking repertoire), but the two differ primarily in the fact that palilalia is a repetition of one’s own self-generated sentences.
There’s nothing like autism to introduce you to interesting little things the human brain sometimes does.
I’m currently reading the book Educating Children with Autism, which is a government report–and reads like one. Meaning, it’s one of the driest, most boring things I’ve ever read. It’s also not exactly chock-full of new information. I’ve run across most of what it has to say in various other places (and said better in those places). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tidbits there.
One tidbit is the fact that “staring spells” are in fact small seizures (30). If you have autism or know of someone with autism, you know they can sometimes fall into “staring spells,” or “space out.”
Actually, that tidbit can also be found in Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures (6).
A seizure is simply caused by an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain. Getting caught in a positive feedback loop, for example. These kinds of seizures are called “absence seizures” because there are only a few seconds of consciousness lost, with no other symptoms. Externally, it appears that the person is just staring blankly.
I have these seizures all the time. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember. I just didn’t know they were seizures until I read about them in the two books above and looked up what kinds of seizures they were. They’re not really a big deal, and often you don’t even know you have had one.
Of course, if you have one in front of a person, it’s bound to be noticed. I’ve been asked a few times whether or not I was okay. If I’m busy doing something and I have one, I’ve been asked if I’m thinking about something (I usually am, so I usually answer in the affirmative). Once, when I had one at a Starbucks I actually had someone rather aggressively ask me what I was staring at, and even after I told him I wasn’t staring at him at all, but was rather thinking about something (I now know better), he told me to stop it. I guess the good thing now is that I if something like that should happen again, I can tell the person I’m prone to absence seizures, and he can feel like the ass he is.
I also have a “twitch” that began as a “head turning” but now mostly manifests itself in a head-shaking. It happens mostly when I’m most relaxed. If I’m focused, I don’t have them. It turns out that those are another kind of seizure, a partial seizure known as a simple motor seizure.
Given that these minor seizures are a feature of autism, I now have an explanation for these experiences. Who would have guessed they were seizures?