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What Is Echolalia And Does It Have A Function? How Can Speech Therapy Help With Echolalia?



Echolalia is a term used when assessing or treating children with Autism. The term refers to the repetition or echoing of utterances, either our own or others’. It can also be echoing phrases heard on television, advertising jingles or catchy repeat phrases used in tv programmes or nursery rhymes and songs. Whilst we all use echolalia occasionally and it can be observed in typically developing children, we tend not to see/hear it beyond the age of 2.5 years old. Children with ASD, however, do use echolalia often into late childhood.


There are generally two types of Echolalia:


Immediate echolalia

Here the repeated phrases or words are produced immediately after someone has spoken the original words or within two conversational turns of the original utterance.


Delayed echolalia

The repeat echoing of the original utterance occurs sometime later, more than two conversational turns or with a much longer time delay. Due to the delay it can be hard to interpret the meaning of the echolalic utterance as it may refer to something that happened long ago and in a different context to the originally utterance.


(Stiegler, 2015, Fay 1967, Blanc 2014)


There are other unconventional speech behaviours which include:

  • Perseveration of Speech – persistent repetition of speech

  • Repetitive questioning – persisting even though answers were given

  • Vocalisations such as: humming, whistling, clicking, squealing etc.


Much research has gone into the meaning and treatment of Echolalia and the following list consists of possible functions that have been identified:

  • Information sharing

  • Responding to answers

  • Labelling

  • Drawing attention to self

  • Protesting

  • Requesting

  • Giving instructions

  • Self-regulation, calming

(Stiegler 2015, Prizant 1983)


Echolalia does have a function and is part of the Gestalt Learning Process (where longer units of speech are memorized and then used as a whole without the individual words being meaningful).


As a Speech and Language Therapist I promote sound and proven Intervention based on the Hanen Programme which helps provide a highly facilitative Interaction Style and I will tell you a bit more in my next blog how the “More Than Words” approach can help children with echolalia move through their Gestalt Learning into more analytic processing of language, grammar and meaning.




My child is very hard to understand! How can Speech Therapy help? >>


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