What is Echolalia?

What is echolalia? 

One of the symptoms of autism is echolalia.
A dictionary states: "meaningless repetition of another person's spoken words as a symptom of psychiatric disorder."  As a parent of a child with autism and as an SLP, I don't find this definition particularly helpful or accurate.  
Here is my definition: echolalia is a person repeating speech he/she has heard.  

Some call it "parroting" due to the tendency to repeat immediately after someone else says something, much like a parrot.

  1. "Lucas, would you like some crackers?" Mom  "Like some crackers" Lucas
  2. "Do you want Goldfish or Cheezits?" Mom "Goldfish or Cheezits." Lucas
As you can see by these two examples, there could be two different things going on...one presents a problem and one does not.  In the first example, Lucas could simply be repeating what Mom says because he is learning how to talk.  In this case, echolalia can be helpful in developing vocabulary.  In the second example, the echolalia becomes problematic because Lucas isn't communicating his choice for crackers.  Mom doesn't know what to hand him and Lucas might become very upset.  

Who diagnoses echolalia?  
No one.  It isn't a specific disorder.  It is a symptom of autism, so anyone qualified to identify symptoms of autism might point it out (a medical provider, a therapist, even a parent).  

What do you do for echolalia
To be completely honest...this is hard to teach and treat.  Here are some things that have helped me as a parent and as an SLP: 
  • Present Choices- like in the example above...present choices.  If the child says both items, but you know they want goldfish, model this for them. "Goldfish or Cheezits" Lucas "I think you might be telling me you want goldfish...'I want goldfish'."  Give him the goldfish.  
  • Pause for a little bit after you model what the child should say.  This breaks apart the sentence and gives them an opportunity to fill in the right language.  If you don't pause, the child may repeat your entire sentence.  Not so great: "Lucas say goldfish please" Mom  "Lucas say goldfish please." Lucas Better: "Lucas say............'goldish please'." Mom "Goldfish please." Lucas (there is still echolalia here...Lucas is repeating, but it isn't causing a problem)
  • Find out what they like and don't like...and make their life a little harder by not just giving them what they want all the time.  Sure, this sounds awful...but in the long run, it can really help.  Don't do this all the time; choose your battles.  Here is the battle I chose.  When Lucas was a toddler, he hated white milk.  At snack time (sometimes, not every time)...I'd present him with 2 choices: "Lucas do you want goldfish or milk?"  If he said anything but goldfish, including both choices, he got milk.  This ticked him off pretty quickly.  I modeled for him with pausing as written above...and he got the hang of it.  
  • Make sure you teach concepts with direct, focused instruction.  Sometimes as an SLP, I've become so "data driven" that I've sat down and spent an entire session with a child presenting "under" or "over" and the child never got anywhere.  They said "under or over" for 30 minutes and didn't learn a thing.  I didn't teach them anything.  To slow down and stop echolalia, children need to know vocabulary.  Teaching concepts with "No Fail" or "Errorless Learning" strategies can be helpful.  Instead of working on "over or under"....we worked on "under".  30 full minutes of "under".  By the end, the child learned what "under" meant.  

Errorless and No Fail activities should come before Level 1 Activities (activities with two choices).  Kids need to know what "yes" and "no" mean before they can answer a yes/no question.  They need to know spatial positions before they can name or point to them without echolalia.  You can find games and activities to target pronouns, yes/no questions, and spatial positions in my Boom Learning and Teachers Pay Teachers shops.  I'll continue to add to these as time goes on.  Feel free to leave a comment of other helpful resources you've found and used.  

Click the Picture Below to Access the No Fail activities on Teachers Pay Teachers: 

Here is a freebie that targets spatial positions in open ended instruction: 

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