Echolalia is defined as the repetition or echoing of words and sounds. It’s actually a regular part of your child’s development since it’s a tool your child uses as they learn how to speak and communicate their needs and ideas with others. Developmental echolalia typically ends around three years old as your child learns to string words and phrases together on their own to communicate.
However, if your child continues repeating words and phrases after the toddler years, it could signify that your child has autism. It’s common for children with autism to have echolalia, especially if they experience delayed speech development. Learning the reasoning behind why your child uses it will aid in identifying the proper treatment method.
Reasons For Echolalia in Autism
There are several reasons why your child with autism uses echolalia, and these reasons could change over time. Your child may also have more than one reason for using repetitive speech.
Some of the most common reasons your child uses echolalia are to:
- Self-stimulate: Your child with autism may have sensory issues. They may become overwhelmed with a particular environment, sound, or situation and find it difficult to cope. This often leads to self-stimulation or “stimming” as a calming mechanism. One stimming method is using echolalia.
- Communicate stress: Like many children with autism, your child may find it challenging to communicate when they find a situation stressful. When this happens, your child may use repetitive speech to express their frustration and stress.
- Aid themselves: Echolalia can be a helpful tool for your child to work through a difficult process. They may use phrases or words they learned from you, peers, teachers, or even television repeatedly to aid themselves to the solution.
- Interact with others: Repetitive speech may be a way your child communicates ideas and interactions with you. For example, they may repeat a phrase you often use in a game if they want to play it – perhaps something like, “Ready or not, here I come,” for a game of tag, or “On your mark, get set, go,” if they want to race someone.
- Ask for things: Speech delays are very normal for children with autism, so they may use similar language a toddler might use to ask for something. Rather than saying, “Can I have chicken nuggets?” they may phrase the question as they hear it from you, “Do you want some chicken nuggets?”
- Answer yes: Similarly, your child may repeat a question you ask them as a way of answering yes. For example, if you ask them, “Do you want some ice cream?” they may respond with “Do you want some ice cream?” as a way of communicating a “yes” response.
Whatever your child’s reasons are for using echolalia, it’s essential to understand that repetitive speech can be a healthy first step to typical language use.
Types of Echolalia
There are two types of echolalia in autism: immediate echolalia and delayed echolalia. There are also two different forms of these types of echolalia: interactive and non-interactive. Determining which kind of echolalia your child uses can be confusing, so we broke it down for you.
This type of repetitive speech occurs immediately after you say something to your child. For example, you may ask them, “Do you want a snack?” and they may repeat it back to you as an echo. This is immediate echolalia. Keep in mind there could be a slight delay in your child’s response, and it may still be immediate echolalia.
As you may be able to guess, delayed echolalia is when your child repeats words or phrases they heard later in the day. They could repeat these phrases with intention, or they could just be repeating the sounds they heard. For example, if your child was watching Paw Patrol on TV in the morning, you may hear them repeat a phrase Ryder said on the episode, “No job is too big, no pup is too small!” later in the day.
Also called “functional echolalia,” interactive echolalia is when your child uses a phrase they’ve memorized as a means to communicate. For example, if your child hears a phrase on a commercial that says, “The best breakfast in town,” your child may say the same thing, or something similar, to indicate they are hungry.
This can require a bit of detective work on your part, but remind yourself that this is a healthy way for your child to learn to communicate.
This type of repetitive speech is also referred to as “non-functional echolalia.” This form of echolalia in autism means the phrases and words your child uses repeatedly don’t serve a function. Rather, your child is simply repeating words and phrases.
Again, determining whether your child is using interactive or non-interactive echolalia takes some sleuthing. But if your child is reciting full cartoon episodes, this may indicate that they are calming themselves, and you may have to try to figure out why they feel overwhelmed or stressed.
It’s crucial to understand that echolalia isn’t a bad thing, despite causing some difficulties in everyday life. Echolalia is actually a great stepping stone to helping your child learn how to communicate effectively.
The best way to help your child with their echolalia, no matter what type or form they present, is to contact a specialist. With the help of a speech therapist and a high-quality ABA therapy program, your child can learn how to expand their language skills.
Early Intervention and ABA Therapy Can Help
The earlier you look into treating echolalia in your child, the better. Studies show early intervention leads to long-term success. ABA therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, is one of the most studied and proven therapy programs to help children with autism learn how to live and communicate successfully.
While not all children with autism use echolalia, most find communication challenging in one way or another. Here at the Autism Therapy Group, we work with you and your child to develop a customized treatment program to address your child’s communication and echolalia concerns. In our ABA program, your child will be given repeated opportunities to learn and practice communication skills, helping them expand from repetitive speech patterns to effective communication.
Contact our autism therapy specialists for more information about our program and how we can help you and your child communicate better.