Parents can sometimes feel a bit unsettled whenever they see their child talk to himself. For most of mainstream society, speech is usually used to communicate with others; however, if an individual has autism, speech can sometimes have a more insular function. This is known as Echolalia.
There are two basic forms of echolalia: immediate echolalia and delayed echolalia.
When your child repeats something immediately after they hear it, that’s immediate
echolalia. Immediate echolalia can sometimes be a way for the child to involve themselves in
the conversation before they actually understand it.
Misunderstandings sometimes occur because others may think that the child is actually
answering a question when they are merely repeating the last words they heard.
For instance, the caregiver might ask, “do you want to play outside or stay inside?”.
The child may say “stay inside” and subsequently throw a tantrum because he was merely
repeating the last two words he heard (stay inside) when his actual preference was to play
Another example is when the caregiver asks “how are you?” and the child replies “how are
Immediate echolalia can indicate a desire to be included in the conversation and to learn
and comprehend language.
To increase the child’s understanding of the words that are being used in conversation, it
helps to have a variety of visual and tactile support to accompany your words. For
instance, gestures, picture cards, and other objects.
Delayed echolalia is the repetition of words and/or phrases that the child has heard some time ago. There are three main reasons for a child’s delayed echolalia.
1. Self-stimulation. Instead of using speech to interact and communicate with others, the child is speaking to entertain or stimulate, themself. For instance, when the child is repeating phrases from a video they have previously watched, they are actually replaying the video in their head and entertaining themself with it. Although this might be a harmless activity, it can impede and compete with real-life interactions. At this point, a good caregiver should gently lead the child out of his inner world and re-direct them to more constructive activity.
2. Communicating a mood or an emotion. Sometimes, the child might remember an emotion that they felt when a sentence was said and adopt the sentence as a way to express the emotions they felt at that point. For instance, if they had felt happiness at the phrase “Come on, let’s have McDonald’s for lunch”. They might start uttering the same phrase whenever they feel similarly happy. When the child does this, it might help to help them to re-frame his emotions by recognising his feelings and teaching him to express his emotions so that it is context-specific.
3. As a way for the child to process the events of the day. Sometimes, a child might mimic what they heard throughout the day to process their experiences. Although it seems like a harmless activity, it is socially inappropriate. A helpful tip that we often use is to offer the child alternative, and more socially-accepted ways to process the events–such as writing it down instead of saying it out loud or carrying a visual schedule around to help them process the events of the day or a behavioural chart to remind them that they should only direct verbal communication to someone and not engage in echolalia.
If you have any further questions or need more help with your child’s echolalia, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to help.