Echolalia, the precise repetition of words or phrases, is a common characteristic of autism. More often than not autistic children use echolalia as a response to directions. They may repeat what people around them have said or they may repeat words or phrases from TV shows.
Children who use echolalia typically mimic the exact words they hear and the precise intonation used. If you have an autistic child whose overall speech is delayed, it can be encouraging to hear them verbalizing. In fact, echolalia is a part of normal language development. However, when echolalia persists past two years old it becomes a concern.
Echolalia may be serving a specific function for your child. If you can understand what function it serves, you can use that information to guide your interventions.
Functional Uses of Echolalia
Echolalia can help autistic children:
- Rehearse phrases
- Make requests
- Gain attention
3 Tips for Working with Echolalia
When Sophie was younger we were unprepared and overwhelmed, we didn’t really understand what echolalia was or how to work with it. To help you and your child make progress try these 3 Tips for Working with Echolalia:
- Tip 1 – Use their mimicking to your advantage. In Sophie’s case, she would invert pronouns saying things like, “You want a glass of water?” instead of “I want a glass of water.” This characteristic of echolalia was so subtle that we didn’t even know that’s what it was.
As a parent or caregiver, you can use this to your advantage. If you see your child standing at the door looking outside, instead of asking, “Do you want to go outside?” (which they will repeat verbatim), model the appropriate verbalization and say, “I want to go outside.” Then praise or reward them for a job well done.
- Tip 2 – Find the root cause of their echolalia. If you can figure out why your child’s echolalia is occurring you can take steps to help them become a more effective communicator. Things like food allergies or sensitivities, inflammation in the gut or brain, or a neurotransmitter or mineral imbalance may be at the heart of the issue. Treating these concerns can help speed your child’s progress.
- Tip 3 – Use speech therapy in conjunction with functional medicine. Speech therapy can be a really effective tool to help with echolalia. Using speech therapy while simultaneously treating the root cause of the problem can speed your child’s progress.
If your child is struggling with echolalia I hope this gives you a few tools to help you both in the future.
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