What Is Echolalia? Tips on How to Handle Repetitive Speech in Children With Autism

“What is Echolalia?” This is a question I get from parents all the time. So, I’m going to do my best to clear it up for you.

Echolalia is the term that therapists describe when a child is repeating or echoing another person’s spoken words.

Simply put, when I ask, “how are you?” they might respond with “how are you?” instead of answering the question.

This is often followed by, “Hey Kayla, how do I get my child to stop? Is that normal? Does my child have autism?”

I want first to clarify that while echolalia can be a concern for autism and is a common characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder—but that doesn’t automatically mean your child has autism.

That’s a crucial distinction that I want to make.

However, please do not ignore echolalia. With other noticeable symptoms and signs, echolalia may be a more significant concern, but again, this doesn’t mean autism right away.

Why Is This Echoing Happening?

Children learn language differently. Some kids may learn by repeating chunks of language or working backward to understand the individual parts of a phrase, and some do the opposite.

Maybe they look at single words like building blocks to craft more complex phrases. Either way, my job as a speech therapist is to understand these differences and work with them.

For young children, I work on first building the ability to copy and repeat. It’s normal and actually very healthy that a child copies what you are saying. This shows excellent cognitive progress in the young child and that they are building the proper interpersonal skills in line with becoming a blossoming social creature.

Put it this way.

It’s concerning when a child isn’t speaking or copying at all, so this repeating and imitating can be a great skill.

The Power of Speech Therapy: How to Tackle Echolalia


Let me start by saying copying is a sort of stepping stone to developing flexible language.

As a speech therapist, I love these milestones. The engaging imitations from the child at a young age are fantastic. I love to see it.

But as we progress, I help children move past copying, where they learn to comprehend what they are actually saying.

And as a speech language therapist, there are two ways I work on that:

Using Redirection Techniques as Behavioral Invention


Say a child is past the appropriate point of copying and is just now repeating everything they hear. They might have a little bit of independent speech, but a lot of communication is a sort of parroting. How do we handle this?

One way is a type of behavioral intervention that employs redirection techniques.

For this type of intervention, I would not pay too much attention to copying as I did when it was a new skill. So while I would’ve celebrated repetition in young children at first, I would stop when we tread into echolalia territory.

Instead, I would pause and wait a moment. I want to draw attention to something else and then come back to the question to teach it differently.

This is a therapeutic method, so I don’t expect parents to follow all these steps. However, it’s crucial to recognize excessive repetition and remedy it through conscious dialogue and attention shifting.

Explicit intervention: Evaluation Starts Here


We love positive reinforcement! Using praising behavior when your child answers you back is important for this intervention.

This particular technique depends on the child’s cognitive level. Can a child comprehend language? Do they recognize different linguistic cues? These are all things that an in-person therapist would have to be involved in and help you determine.

Finding the Right Speech Therapy for You


While it may be hard to find an in-person speech therapist for your little one, online classes and video conferencing consultations are great alternatives to getting the help you need.

I can understand the concerns that online therapy may not be as effective as an in-person invention. Still, from my first-hand experience, I’ve seen remarkable progress using online learning with my students.

You can also check out my blog to see the full list of benefits of virtual therapy.

While dealing with COVID-19 has been difficult for all of us, don’t let that stop you from seeking out speech therapy for your child.

The Walkie Talkie Speech Therapy team loves helping parents navigate early learning, and despite the new normal we are all adapting to, we can grow and heal together.

Let’s talk. You can reach out about a consultation with us. Send an email to info@walkietalkie.education

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