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How TV and Movie Quotes Connect My Neurodiverse Family


We are the Children of Tama. At least I certainly am.

For years, I have quoted lines from books and movies where they seemed relevant, and for some reason, my children do the same. Lots of laughs and more than that — it has become a unique language for our family.

So I always loved the “Star Trek: Next Generation” episode about the children of Tama. They were a race encountered by the crew of the Enterprise that communicated entirely with literary allusions.  The crew was clueless in these interactions until after the leader of the Tama kidnapped Captain Picard so they could experience the challenge of facing a foe together, thus building a relationship so they could understand each other.

At our house, you might hear allusions like this. See if you can identify the movies.

Someone drops and breaks something or can’t finish a chore. I say I will clean up the mess or cover the work: “I’m a compassionate insect.”

Some satisfying conclusion to a mess we were in: “Yes, Rico.  Ka-boom!”

Nobody knows what to do in an unfamiliar situation: “I have no memory of this place.”

Discussion of how I will respond if the kids take this or that action: “And then we have the screaming problem again…”

When departing from dear friends: “Have fun storming the castle! — It would take a miracle.”

And so forth. There are plenty of other times when there’s less of an obvious context, where a phrase just fits the moment we’re in, or somehow reminds us of a past incident. We get the context, however. There are many lines we love that sum things up more perfectly than any analysis any one of us could give. I just assumed other families quote movies, because like, why wouldn’t you?  It’s fun.  It’s succinct. It gets a laugh. It communicates.

It was only within the last couple of years that my reading about behaviors typical of people with autism led me to understand that this could be called echolalia.

Echolalia is defined as repeating speech or lines that have been heard. If you look at the definition in some places, it appears the average person would see no context for the line that was repeated.  Based on our personal experience with our movie quotes, though, I really doubt that’s true.  Probably there is a context every time to the person on the spectrum; it’s just that the neurotypical can’t see it.

When we quote movies to each other, there is a context. We are communicating. It works beautifully.

I found out today that we aren’t the only ones.

In this New York Times essay, Ron Suskind relates how his son on the autism spectrum connected with an animated character from a movie when he couldn’t communicate with anyone else.  Granted, in his situation his son had no other way to communicate for many years. But for both families, utilizing other stories built connections in ways typical conversation was unable to do.

There’s communication going on here — if you can speak the language.

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Getty image by OJO Images.


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