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Echolalia in Children with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism

A common symptom of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism includes repetition of words and phrases. In many cases, these phrases are related to something the youngster has been exposed to (e.g., a movie, book, song, etc.). The youngster may continue to say the word or phrase throughout the day or even throughout the following week.

If you're the mother or father of a verbal youngster diagnosed with Aspergers, you may have heard him or her repeat bits and pieces from videos or other sources. This type of communication is called "echolalia." It's a unique form of speech, and although it's thought of as a "symptom," it can also be a great place to start working with your youngster.

Echolalia is literally the repetition of words and sounds the child has heard either recently or quite a while ago. Verbal Aspergers kids are often "echolalic" (i.e., they do use words, and sometimes even use those words appropriately, but their word choice is based on a memorized pattern).

Sometimes, echolalia is immediate (e.g., dad says, "Michael, do you want a sandwich?" …and Michael responds, "You want a sandwich"). Just as often, echolalia is delayed (e.g., a youngster hears a line on television such as "got milk?" …and later when he's thirsty, he may say "got milk?" in exactly the same tone and accent as the ad on television). In both of these cases, the echolalia may sound odd, but in fact it's a method the Aspergers youngster has developed for communicating his/her wants and needs. The fact that the child has done so means that he/she is able to do much more with the help of a speech therapist.

In some cases, echolalia is less functional, but it's usually a good starting point for speech and/or play therapy. For example, a youngster might memorize entire segments of a favorite movie and recite them over and over. The youngster's purpose in reciting may be to calm down or reduce stress, but the recitation may also indicate a real fascination for aspects of the movie.

Children with Aspergers do interact and communicate; however, they do so in different ways. “Aspies” are truly more normal than abnormal. Even echolalia is a normal way to learn language. Most kids use echolalia to learn language. The majority of kids babble in a rhythmic way, which is actually mimicking the cadence of language. Later, they copy sounds, words, and eventually phrases and sentences that they hear grown-ups use in specific, repetitive contexts. Echolalia peaks at around age 30 months in “typical” kids, and then decreases.

Echolalia was once thought of as just another inappropriate behavior to eliminate in a child with Aspergers; however, researchers currently see it as a developmental phenomenon that occurs within the youngster's normal cognitive and linguistic maturation. Echolalia appears to be a "normal" step in the Aspie’s cognitive and language maturation, and is intrinsically rewarding to the youngster. The reinforcer is actually the youngster being able to match what others say.

Many Aspergers kids become experts at echoing the content of what is said by others, as well as the voice, inflexion, and manner in which the words were originally spoken. The value of echolalia for the child may be that the echoed words and contextual cues become stored information for him or her to refer to later as an internal rehearsal of the event.

The presence of echolalia has actually been identified as a positive sign in children with Aspergers. The presence of echolalia is an important prognostic indicator for future language growth. It appears that echolalia provides the "raw material" for further language growth. Kids with Aspergers who are echolalic developed good phrase speech later in life whether or not they received intensive language training.

If echolalia is one of the phases of normal language development, it would appear that continued echolalia indicates that the child with Aspergers is "stuck" at that level of development for a time, but then seems to overcome it and develop more normal speech patterns.

Regardless of the utility of echolalia for the child with Aspergers, the habit can interfere with social interaction and learning. Therefore, most therapists focus on helping the child move to a more creative form of language. A child with Aspergers is more likely to use echolalia when he or she had not learned an appropriate response to a particular question or request.
 

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

is this similar to a child who suddenly keeps repeating lines from adverts he has heard ? my son does this a lot, and in inappropriate times often.. he hasnt a diagnosis officially but is being assessed since he was 2 x

Anonymous said...

another one our son does is constantly tell us what's happening in whatever he's watching on the TV, even if we're actually watching it ourselves! We think it's his way of processing what he see's to help him understand it.

Anonymous said...

My 12+ yo has never been able to memorize math facts, BUT boy can he memorize lines in songs, commercials, movies, etc. AND, of course, usually starts repeating some of them when it's an inappropriate time. He can pull lines from way back in his memory storage, but no math facts.

Anonymous said...

My 7 yo Aspie son is constantly repeating things that he says to us in normal conversation. For example, if he tells us it's raining outside, even though we acknowledge that we heard what he said, he may repeat the same sentence 4 or 5 times. He too blurts out inappropriate phrases he's memorized or sounds he has heard before. Could this be echolalia?

Anonymous said...

Echolalia was the only was my son could communicate with me as a toddler. He watched teletubbies. When he had a need or wanted a drink he spoke in teletubby. He was diagnosed not long afterwards. Early diagnoses was key to advancements he has made so far.

Anonymous said...

my son is the EXACT same way & gets obsessed with one or more subjects & will talk about them non stop, but suffers in math. Luckily he is in a private school that caters only to children w special education needs. He also has dyslexia & ADHD. His school places them in there level in each subject. Like, he'd on a 4-5 th grade math level, but a 7-8th grade spelling & science level. The classes are also only 5-6 kids per class.

Anonymous said...

mine does that. He is 6 soon. Drives me a bit nutty :) States the obvious x5

Anonymous said...

My son also repeats himself over and over, sometimes it will just be a certain word he said that he will repeat.

Anonymous said...

wen kyle was 2 he was first refered to doctor because he repeated every last word you said. now he repeats things at the most innapropriate of times like in the supermarket and you can ask him something he will say "you can be owed hundreds in compensation" was the lates one.. it is strange because its almost as if he sort of stores it in his memory and then just isnt able to judge the right setting to say it in.. he has special needs supprot at school and they have been very good so far x
about an hour ago · Like

Anonymous said...

My 13yo Aspie daughter does this often. she'll hear a funny commercial and repeat her fav part over and over again; she also will say something that she thinks is witty and/or funny and if no one responds immediately she will continue to repeat herself until someone does. (i try to wait it out as long as i can and hope that she'll stop on her own; i've only made it to 6 repeats before i crack!)
about an hour ago · Like

Anonymous said...

I went to talk about repetitive behavrious in aspies, and the psychologist giving the talk said to ask the child whether repeating helps the process of communication or whether it's going to annoy the person, of course this is high level stuff.
Sometimes ignoring helps - my child says the same comment at the same robot and I ignore it. They KNOW that I don't like repetition but I also know they can't help the urge/need to repeat...

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen my son is the same way!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, they don't out grow this behavior. My sons' dad, an Aspie, is 36 and still does this. He really doesn't think that it is abnormal to repeat in the exact same tone what I just said. When my son was 3 he did this all the time...his brother used to constantly scream, 'stop copying me." The behavior has slowed down with my son, but he loves to talk to himself and rehearse things that he has heard and wants to repeat.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have a 10 year old aspire that does this. Glad to know, it is a common thing. She does this with her school work. She will say the things just like she hears on tv, but she will keep the story and just change the characters to who she wants them to be. I never know what to do. Should I ask for stuff more original? Right now I don't say anything. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

I came across your website while doing a case study for college which I am going for occupational therapy assistant. I have a son with Asperger's and I LOVE you site. I'm in a support group and I will be sharing your site with them. Keep up the good work.

stef said...

I have cousins with aspergers. I've been noticing repetitive and distinct behaviors with my daughter. After reading this it fits but she's too young to know its it just how she's learning. She constantly repeats two numbers sometimes alternates how but there's a pattern . If I count allowed she doesn't repeat she says the next number. She picks up words and phrases quickly. She's just about 18 months and has a checkup son, are there questions I should ask her dr. With my concerns?

Nicole Trenberth said...

My partners cousin always repeats rude words he'll always go on and on about the movie once were warriors and he'll always repeat this until u get pissed off and tell him too stop he walks around the house making sex sounds like he's getting sex or something he also likes running up and down the hallway making sex sounds and the other thing he likes calling people a dumb cunt and he'll always repeat this he likes it and thinks it funny

Arce Doble said...

What is the prognosis for a child with severe echolalia? My 3 year old, almost 4 year old son uses echolalia in most of his communication, and does not seem to understand how to carry a conversation. He is just starting a developmental and speech delay assessment rough the school system, and has not started a diagnosis. He does exhibit a few autistic symptoms like toe walking, lining up things, obsession on one thing, and certain behavior problems. He does not appear to have any sensory issues. I am wondering if he will ever get a chance to have a conversation. I'm losing hope. Any advice or personal experiences to share will be very appreciated.

Unknown said...

Hello Arce Doble, never lose hope! My son shows exactly the description of yours and is in the same age.

tara pelletier said...

Arce doble . Don't lose hope . I know it's easier said than done. My son at the age of 1 1/2 started showing speech delay . I ignored what the specialists had to say . They were trying to diagnose my son to me at such a young age . Then I started to realize at 2- 2 1/2 that things weren't right . Went to several doctors even had tests done on his head to see what was wrong with my little guy . At age 3 I went to a child development center and had a group of specialist sit down with my son and asked me 100s of questions . My son too would repeat whatever was shown on tv or whatever I said . He walked on his tip toes or would run around making humming noises . Could barely say a sentence . He was diagnosed with aspergers . No parent wants to hear that . It was hard and still is for me because now I fear of the what ifs ? But I try not to let that all get to me . I don't treat my child any different . I push him to do better as I know he can .

I recommend you go see a child specialist and get a diagnosis before your child gets older . It's best to get answers now so that way he can get the help he needs to get on the right path . I wish you luck !

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