What is echolalia?
What does it mean when your child keeps repeating words, phrases or sounds? This is called echolalia. Children may do this when they do not know how to effectively communicate or lack communication skills. Many times, echolalia is used to practice or learn language. Repetitive speech is common for children in their early childhood and also common for children with autism or developmental delays to carry it further into their childhood.
There are several different reasons why your child keeps repeating words, phrases or sounds. For example:
- They may be using it as a sensory outlet or way to calm themselves when they get anxious or upset.
- It could be used as a form of communication when it is too difficult for them to form their own words or ideas.
- They may be trying to take their first steps of communication.
- They are exploring a form of ‘self-talk’ or talking to oneself when experiencing difficulty or frustration.
Types of echolalia
There are several different types of echolalia and each play a particular role in a child’s way of communicating or learning how to communicate.
Oftentimes, echolalia can be an immediate response. An example of this would be, “Lauren, do you want a snack?” and Lauren responds, “Want a snack.” In this case, Lauren is immediately echoing the language spoken to her to communicate that she wants a snack or is hungry.
Similarly, Lauren may repeat a phrase or song from a show earlier in the day, as a way to respond to a situation that reminds her of that show. This delayed response may seem as though it does not relate to the situation at hand, but in fact it is her way of making sense of the situation and using her own way of communicating.
For some kids, echolalia may be the repetition of meaningless sounds. This would be considered a form of non-functional echoing. A child may be able to reiterate words or phrases, but have no understanding of what they are saying. For example, a child may be able to reiterate an entire scene from their favorite show, but has no understanding of the characters or events happening. This can cause confusion and can also be misleading to parents as they think their child understands more than they do.
When a child uses functional echolalia, however, they use memorized words or phrases in a purposeful way. For example, a child watches a commercial for cookies and later on when they get hungry, they repeat the word “cookies” in the same tone or accent, in order to communicate that they are hungry.