What is echolalia?

Lowry (n.d.) explains the meaning of echolalia by an individual repeating words, phrases, or sentences that occurs in the environment. Echolalia is one of the signs or symptoms of Autism. For me, I had echolalia after starting to develop verbal language at age six. I repeated words from anyone who interacted with me. Echolalia functions for communication purposes. Here are behaviors Autistics with echolalia will display:

  1. Request based on interactions between people. This means an Autistic will ask for something based on observing others asking for things in a way, depending on the situation. Think of modeling, in which someone watches how someone else responds or behaves in the environment. That is how Autistics pick up communication skills.
  2. Communicate lines from a TV show, movie, game, or place. This is how an Autistic will initiate something specific based on a line they recall from a TV show, movie, game, or location.
  3. Gain attention. An Autistic will gain attention by saying a line from experiences they have been through prior based on the current experience. If the current experience is similar from prior, then they will more likely communicate the same line.
  4. Respond by imitating. If an Autistic answered a question from someone by repeating that question the exact same way, this means they are most likely saying yes or correct.
  5. Protesting. An Autistic will communicate based on seeing someone doing something they do not want to do. An Autistic will imitate by saying, “You do want to do this _activity “, even though it was meant about them. They will use the word, “you” instead of “I”, even though they are trying to refer about themselves.

It can be tricky to determine meaning from an Autistic with echolalia, but people have to be detectives. By being a detective, it can help in the long run. Here are some tips to help an Autistic with echolalia:

  1. Sentence Starters. My speech language therapists used to use this prompting strategy to work on my language development. If an Autistic doesn’t have enough vocabulary yet, use visuals with this strategy.
  2. Scripting. This strategy helps with social skills, such as creating conversations between people. Does this relate with echolalia? It does not because scripting helps with responding to conversations. The point is to teach Autistics how to respond. This can be done through modeling.
  3. Provide choices. A big thing Autistics need help with is making choices. Providing choices, this allows Autistics to have a voice in what they think and feel. Make sure to ask them questions using preferred and non preferred items or activities. For example, do you want to eat a salad or pizza for dinner? This will allow Autistics to develop their thinking and decision making skills.

All of these tips works on various skills, in order for people to grow and develop. To wrap this topic up, do you know think echolalia is important for language development? Share your thoughts in the comments section!


Lowry, L. (n.d). 3 Things you should know about Echolalia. The Hanen Centre.


Published by The World of Autism

My name is Michelle. Follow my journey on life with Autism.

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