Updated: Nov 26, 2020
ECHOLALIA is defined as ‘repetition of another person’s spoken word’. This may be spoken word from a physical person, or from toys, tv programs, nursery rhymes, adverts, story books, safety announcements....
Children with communication disorders such as Autism may use echolalia as part of their verbal communication. They usually struggle to allocate meaning to these repeated words or phrases or to use them within an appropriate context. They may choose certain phrases or bridging words to buy themselves time if they have misunderstood a question/ instruction or if they are struggling to process some verbal information. Examples of fantastic time buying phrases are, “let me think about it”, “let’s see”, or “Im not sure”. They often don’t understand what they are repeating.
Some children with Autism or social communication disorder may also use Complex Echolalia. This is where they are able to repeat phrases, words or whole pieces of information WITHIN the correct context. This can be pretty hard to spot, as on the surface it seems that their verbal communication is entirely appropriate. However the child cannot usually allocate meaning to these words or phrases. A newcomer or unfamiliar person may not pick up on this at all, however those of you that know the child well might start to notice some copied phrases/ terms/ words being used regularly - just check your child or young person knows what they mean, and if not, try to explain.
If you notice a child is showing echolalic speech it can often be a sign that they need: • Additional processing time for verbal information • Clear and explicit language • Simplified body language, supported with clear gesture • Reduced verbal information - ask closed questions, offer limited choices, give only essential information, drop the bridging words • Broken down instructions - one step at a time (get your shoes, put them on) • Visuals to support instructions or to sequence instructions in the right order - this doesn’t have to be pictures; written lists, post-it notes and flow charts all count as visuals if your young person can read • Support in managing their current level of anxiety - you may notice more echolalia with increased stress levels or demand • Reduction in additional demand - sensory demands from the environment, social demands from those surrounding them, physical demands in terms of positioning and basic needs
Remember, some echolalia is part of normal language acquisition within ‘typical’ child development, and there are NO ABSOLUTES with Autism - your child or young person may never use echolalia, or may go through phases of using it