Echolalia is a speech and language term that refers to when a child repeats what the speaker says. Echolalia is most often associated with children on the Autism Spectrum but is also how most children learn and develop language. All children go through a phase where they exhibit echolalia; However, when this phase persists passed 30-months of age it is considered atypical.
What might a child repeat?
– Favorite books
– Favorite television shows
This is only a few examples of potential scripts that a child with echolalia may repeat.
Types of Echolalia
- Immediate Echolalia refers to when a speaker says something to a child and the child immediately repeats what the speaker says.
- Delayed Echolalia refers to when a child repeats something they heard after an extended period of time has passed since they heard it. This time can range anywhere from minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or even years.
How can we teach children spontaneous language?
Therapy for correcting echolalia can vary based on how the child is using the echolalia
- Limited Vocabulary: When the child is using echolalia as a result of poor language skills or a limited vocabulary the therapist should target the language skills rather than the echolalia directly. This child is repeating the clinician because they do not know how to respond correctly.
- Requesting: Some children utilize echolalia when requesting desired objects and will phrase their request as a question because this is what they heard others say rather than as a statement. In this case you can respond to the child’s “question.” For example, if the child says “do you want a cookie?” You can respond, “No, I don’t want a cookie but do you?” You can then model the appropriate response for the child.
- Answering Questions: Many children may repeat questions rather than answering appropriately. In this case the clinician should chose one question type to begin with. The clinician should ask the question and immediately provide an appropriate answer in order to model an appropriate response for the child. Once the child is able to answer with the model the clinician should fade this cue and only provide the initial sound of the word. Once the child has met this step the clinician can then just mouth the word to the child and then eventually the child should learn to answer this question spontaneously. After the child has mastered a given question type, the clinician should begin another question type.
- Self-stimulatory: Some children utilize echolalia because it is comforting to them and as a result it is used a self-stimulatory behavior. In order to eliminate this use of echolalia the clinician must first determine what is causing the child to engage in self-stimulatory behaviors. The clinician can also utilize social stories to teach the child more appropriate ways to soothe as well as teach the child alternative calming strategies. This is often a result of stress, boredom or lack of attending to the task. In the case of stress, the clinician should find alternative ways to soothe the child that are more appropriate than echolalia. Sensory activities often work well in soothing children. If the child is bored or not attending to the task, the clinician could provide redirection to the task or choose another, more motivating task to elicit the same goal.
Source: Super Duper Publications, Speech and Language Kids
Jenna Oldfield, MA, CF-SLP TSSLD