What is Echolalia?
Echolalia is a form of unconventional verbal behaviors such as repeating a conversation, television program or part of a movie/play word for word. Even the inflections or tones and patterns of the conversation will be replicated by the subject.
Echolalia is part of normal language development and is somewhat spontaneous in children. It is much like “parroting”. A phrase or sentence can be remembered and repeated; often in the same context it was originally heard. This means that if a child learns a phrase from a cartoon or movie and relates it to a feeling of anger or happiness, that phrase will be used in the event of a similar scenario. It does not necessarily mean that the child understands where the phrase fits.
With age, your child should normally grow out of using echolalia. However, symptoms persist, it is time to see your physician with regard to echolalia in autism.
What is Echolalia Autism?
Echolalia and autism usually go hand in hand with children diagnosed with ASD. Usually, kids with echolalia and Autism lack the language processing skills necessary to put a phrase within the proper context.
Echolalia in children diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum can be a positive thing. It indicates that the child is at least processing the language; they hear it even though their response may be at a sub-functional level. But it’s a sign that there may be meaningful language and speech development in the future.
Echolalia provides hope that an autistic child will eventually learn to communicate efficiently. However, it does not imply that the child will learn to use the right words in their correct context or with the correct meaning of the word. Often, with autism spectrum disorders, the child is unaware of some social skills and may misinterpret the usage of the phrase.
Symptoms of Echolalia Autism
As a parent who spends most of your time with your child, you should be able to determine if phrases and sentences are uttered without an understanding of what they mean. You can readily spot these if your child blurts out a phrase in the middle of a conversation for which there is no relevance.
Some autistic children with echolalia use these phrases to remember directions that have been given to them. For example, a child may say, “wash your hands before you eat“, as they are washing their hands before dinner. This is a clear sign that echolalia is being used by your child to help them remember the order of certain processes. A child with echolalia autism will often verbalize learned directions when they are under stress. This is their way of remembering what to do and to blot out the stressor.
Upon recognition by parents that a child is using phrases beyond their language skills and seeking out medical advice and therapy, there is a good chance that your child’s cognitive and language skills will develop. The good news is that Echolalia often increases eye contact and spontaneity in a child.
Your child might come to you and ask to put their shoes on when what they really mean is that they want to go outside. For an autistic child, this is progress. They have associated going outside with putting on their shoes.
Often, as parents and educators, we ask many questions. For children with echolalia and autism, questions may result in a blank stare or no response. I encourage parents to ask fewer questions and give directions about what you want your child to do. This is how your child learns! It is called positive reinforcement. You have the opportunity to say exactly what you want your child to say in context to a situation. Because they will mimic your words you must be careful to use the same phrase to mean the same thing and under the same situation each time you say it. Understanding what works for your child is the key here.
Therapies for Echolalia Autism
Using Puppet Play
You can do some therapy at home during playtime by simulating conversations using puppets. You can use full hand puppets, finger puppets or even stuffed animals for this purpose. Your child with Echolalia would naturally want to imitate things you say in a situation. So, put a puppet in a similar scenario and say exactly what you want as the response to that very situation. Narrative or puppet play is EXCELLENT for your child. Upon repeating this exercise over a few days, you may be surprised to hear your child playing puppets by themselves by using exactly the same scenarios and words. Soon, their cognitive abilities fall into place and they have a true sense of the connection between the word and their meanings.
Improvising Your Child’s Words
Another great way to work with your child is by modeling what you want them to say in a particular situation. Forget the questions! If your child is reaching for a cookie don’t say “do you want a cookie”. You should say “I want a cookie”. This is what you want your child to say when they want a cookie, right! Always keep in mind with echolalia, repetition or echoing is the response that is initiated. Saying good night to your child or goodbye should not include their name. You may find this odd at first. However, if you use normal figure of speech, like “Goodnight Tommy“, they will associate repeating the same phrase goodnight with their name to everyone they wish goodnight to.
The Brighter side of Echolalia in Autism
There is a silver lining to echolalia autism! Your child is talking, trying and learning to communicate while adapting to essential social skills and emotions. This is one part of autism therapy that you can see unfold right before your eyes! It may seem frustrating at times, but isn’t it great to hear your child communicating rather than living in silence?
As a mom, I would much rather have my child kiss me “Goodnight Tommy” and close the door with a smile than retire in silence and despair. You know what is possible and you can tap yourself on the shoulder, hold your head up high and sleep well as your child progresses one step at a time while under your guidance and watchful eyes!