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Echolalia in an Autistic Child

written by: stacy1172 • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 7/28/2010

Communicating with an autistic child can be difficult. By working with a speech therapist to learn what echolalia is, and how it affects an autistic child, you can make the communication process easier.

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    Echolalia in an Autistic Child

    Echolalia is the echoing or repeating of words or phrases previously heard. For example, if you ask the question, "Do you want a drink of water?", instead of answering with "Yes or no," someone with echolalia will respond by repeating the question back to you. Echolalia occurs in approximately 85% of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) who eventually develop functional speech.

    There are 2 types of echolalia, "immediate echolalia and delayed echolalia." Someone with immediate echolalia will repeat a word or phrase that was heard immediately after hearing it. Delayed echolalia is the repeating of a word or phrase that was heard days, weeks, months, or even years ago.

    Autism Speech Therapy Strategy

    Children with autism process information in many different ways. The use of echolalia may convey the intent of communicating or it may not serve an identifiable purpose. Work closely with your child's speech therapist to determine the meaning behind the use of echolalia.

    Taking the time to study and understand the autistic child's use of echolalia can be very beneficial. This does not mean just understanding the words, it can also mean the emotion behind the words. If you ask a question, and the autistic child responds with a line from a movie or TV show, pay attention to their emotion. An autistic child may use a word or phrase to convey their emotion. To them the word or phrase may be synonymous with happiness, sadness, anger, etc. Watch the movie or show to see the context and emotion behind this phrase.

    Keep a journal of the echolalia phrases that your autistic child uses. Write down notes about what context the phrase was used in and the emotion your child exhibited. Share these with your child's speech therapist. It may take some detective work by you and the speech therapist, but in the end you will have better communication with your autistic child.