Understanding Echolalia in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Understanding Echolalia in Autism Spectrum Disorder

April is Autism Awareness Month and Shaunita Woods, a Speech Language Pathologist with Wayne County Schools has some advice about echolalia.

By Shaunita Woods, MCD, CCC-SLP

Echolalia is the repeating of another’s words or sounds. Such behavior is a normal part of a child’s language development and typically stops before age 3. However, in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the use of echolalia often persists. Echolalia is highly prevalent in autism occurring in an estimated 75% of children with ASD.

Children exhibiting echolalia may acquire phrases that naturally occur in their environments from a variety of sources such as: family members, movies, TV shows, songs, and other sources of words. For example, a child who exhibits echolalia may respond to a question by asking the same question, using the same intonation.

Research suggests that children who use echolalic language past the age of 3 are likely gestalt language processors, meaning that linguistic information is processed in chunks rather than individual words. Many of these children may use lengthy phrases or sentences rich with intonational contours but often do not understand the individual words they are repeating.

Echolalia is generally divided into two categories: immediate and delayed. Immediate echolalia refers to the repetition of speech immediately after it is spoken, while delayed echolalia refers to the repetition of speech sometime after it is spoken. Research suggests that immediate echolalia is more common in children with ASD although both often occur.

The latest research proposes that echolalia in ASD serves a communicative function although it often cannot be interpreted literally. Parents can help their children who use echolalia to communicate by validating and acknowledging their communication, attempting to determine the source and its possible meaning, and use statements instead of questions, accepting one-word responses (instead of lengthy vocalizations), and by emphasizing first-person pronouns (such as I, me, my, and mine).

For more information about Autism, visit Autism Speaks.