What is Echolalia? Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) use echolalia, which simply refers to the repetition of words or phrases. They might ‘parrot’ the words of familiar people like their parents or teachers and even from videos that they are interested in. However, it does not necessarily mean that the child understands where the phrase fits. In a typical setting, children will gradually grow out of using echolalia as they increase in age. However, children with autism face difficulties in language processing skills necessary to put a phrase within the proper context. Echolalia is a unique form of speech and is one of the first ways in which your child uses speech to communicate. This behaviour could be a positive sign as it indicates that the child is at least processing the language. It also means that interventions can be done to develop more meaningful language and speech development in future.
There are mainly 2 different types of echolalia known as ‘immediate echolalia’ and ‘delayed echolalia’ which will be discussed below:
When an individual repeat back something that he/she heard, that is considered immediate echolalia. For example, if a mother asked “Do you want a cookie?” and the child responded with “Do you want a cookie?”. In this case, the child is responding towards the mother’s question but may or may not want a cookie. The child merely echoed the mother’s precise language.
Immediate echolalia appears to tap into an individual’s short-term memory for auditory input. Additionally, it is also an attempt for the individual to remain in a conversation and provide an answer before the meaning of the conversation is grasped. For most children with autism, immediate echolalia is a developmental phase that occurs when they begin to understand the functions of words but can never decode what a word means soon enough to provide a specific or relevant reply.
Delayed echolalia has been defined as “echoing of a phrase after some delay or lapse of time”. For example, a child watches an episode of Sesame Street and later that day, you can hear him/her reciting catchphrases/paragraphs of Elmo scenes. These phrases may pop up at any time and place and may seem unusual because they are used out of context.
Though delayed echoic responses are out of context and may not fit the current conversational context, they often relate to the individual. For example, a repeated sentence or phrase can represent a significant emotion, memory or interest.
Echolalia can be confusing but serves an important purpose in being a natural part of language development in children. As mentioned above, both immediate and delayed echolalia represents a desire for inclusion in conversation and comprehension of language. Therefore, it is not a good idea to prevent it completely but slowly let this behaviour fade off with relevant intervention from a trusted provider.
Written by Jermaine.
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