Why does your child with autism repeat words and sounds?


Echolalia describes the exact repetition or repetition aloud of words and sounds. Echolalia can be a symptom of a variety of medical conditions, including aphasia , dementia, traumatic brain injury, and schizophrenia, but it is most commonly associated with autism .

Echolalia is not always a means of calming yourself, such as rocking or shaking your hands. This has its own pattern, and perhaps this is how your autistic child uses speech for the first time to communicate. So while it can be described as a symptom of autism , it is also a starting point for a parent or speech therapist to start working with their child.

This article explores how echolalia occurs in children (whether on the autism spectrum or not), what types of echolalia you may encounter, and what is the best way to help an autistic child with echolalia.

Echolalia in child development

In fact, echolalia is a normal part of a child's development: When young children learn to speak, they imitate the sounds they hear. However, over time, the normally developing child learns the language and uses it to convey his needs and ideas, putting together new words.

By age 3, most children interact with others by choosing words or phrases using their own unique voices and intonations.

By age 4-5, they can ask and answer questions, have conversations, and use language in their own way to communicate with others.

Echolalia in autism

One of the difficulties in understanding echolalia in autistic children is that the repetitive speech patterns of echolalia can be used for a variety of reasons. These goals can change over time, and a person can also use echolalia for multiple purposes at the same time.

Many children with autism use words, sometimes very difficult "adult" words. However, his words are not, in a sense, his. They are pronounced in the same order and generally in the same tone as those you heard on a television show, in a book, or from your teacher and other people.

Reasons autistic children use echolalia in speech patterns include:

  • Self -stimulation: Often referred to as " stimulation ," this use of echolalia speech patterns is considered a reassuring strategy. Repetition is used to deal with overwhelming sensory issues.
  • Pre-preparation : Using repetitive phrases and scripts helps to communicate when the speaker is too difficult or stressful to compose their own original words.
  • Self- talk : Learning phrases can help a child get through a difficult process by using phrases that parents, teachers, or television hear.

For many children with autism, echolalia is the key first step toward more typical forms of spoken communication. For example, a child with autism may repeat a teacher's phrase, such as "say thank you," exactly as the teacher said, rather than actually saying the intended "thank you" in return.


Echolalia is often referred to as a symptom of autism, but for many children it is also the first step toward more typical language use.

Types of echolalia

There are different types of echolalia and the terms can be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with them. This is due in part to the fact that the understanding of echolalia changes over time. For example, what was previously considered a problem to "correct" is now seen as a possible pathway for speech development. Also, "functional echolalia" is often referred to as "interactive echolalia."

Other types can be described as "non-interactive" or "relaxed" when discussing how the autistic speaker uses the template. "Immediate" and "delayed" describe when the words are repeated.

Interactive and non-interactive

Some autistic children have unusual auditory memories, which means that they remember what they hear. They use passages from teachers or television shows to convey ideas and thoughts, but the way these phrases are used seems unconventional. To others, the sounds of echolalia seem insignificant. Researchers believe that both styles serve a purpose.

This is one of the reasons why 'functional' autism can be called 'interactive', following the logic that both styles are actually functional, but for different reasons. Children who speak online try to communicate with another person and use memorized phrases with a real purpose. The challenge is understanding the meaning.

Functional echolalia can also be called "interactive" because an autistic child's speech is designed to communicate with another person.

For example, a child hears a line on television such as "Is there milk?" and then when you are thirsty you can say "eat milk?" in the same tone and accent as the television commercial, rather than directly ordering a drink.

Similarly, a child may say, "Come back, Lieutenant!" when they are angry because they saw the angry character say it in the movies. The child has associated words with the emotion of anger and uses this phrase to say it.

This is confusing until it is understood how the child "tied" these words to his ideas, in the same way that language (descriptive phrases of a sentence) gets lost between languages: "Nobody literally means" it is pouring down rain. " but we know what it is.

In non-interactive echolalia, the child does not try to talk to anyone. Words or phrases may be repeated for your own purposes, perhaps to "practice" an idea or as a calming mechanism.

It can be exciting. It may also not make any difference, because it is not always clear whether the child intentionally chooses words or repeats words that he does not understand.

The important thing is that, in any case, the autistic child borrows the words of others and still needs help to find his own. Using these echolalia patterns can offer parents and speech therapists the opportunity to develop a child's unique style and work on the use of the original language.

This is especially true for softened echolalia, when the child makes small changes to the original wording: adding "yes" to a question or a new pronoun to correctly identify the speaker.

Immediately and delayed

Sometimes echolalia is an immediate echo of the words the child hears. For example, a parent or guardian asks, "Do you want a drink?" and the child responds: "You want a drink."

Not being able to change pronouns is common and the child may react appropriately and may well want a drink. But instead of using the original phrase in normal conversation, such as "yes, please" or "I want lemonade," the child repeats the exact language.

Echolalia is also often delayed. The boy watches the Sesame Street episode, and later that day, he is heard reciting Bert and Ernie's conversation or singing an excerpt from the title song. Sometimes a child may use Ernie's words on purpose; sometimes words are just repeated sounds. In delayed echolalia, there is a distance between listening and using words.


Children with autism use echolalia in a variety of speech patterns, and these patterns serve a purpose. The repetition of words by the child can occur immediately or after a few hours. It can be interactive when talking to a parent or teacher, or it can seem "stimulating", but the templates provide information on how to improve a child's language skills.

Is echolalia different from palilalia?

Palilalia is a speech disorder characterized by the involuntary repetition of words and phrases. In this sense, it is very similar to echolalia, but there are differences. One difference is that in echolalia, the repetition or echo focuses on what other people say when the child hears them.

Another difference is that palilalia often involves increasingly rapid speech with the same repetitive sounds. This is not limited to people on the autism spectrum (such as echolalia), but has more to do with Tourette syndrome, Parkinson's, seizure disorders, and even medication side effects.

Watch out

As much as you want to restrict your child's echolalia, especially in public places, the reality is that echolalia can serve a valuable role and can be a very positive behavior under certain circumstances.

Even when echolalia is less functional, it is often a good starting point for speech and play therapy. For example, a child can memorize entire sections of a favorite video and repeat them over and over again. The purpose of a child's reading may be to calm down or reduce anxiety , but reading can also indicate a genuine fascination with certain aspects of the video, just like normal children.

When echolalia is functional, it is cause for joy: Your child has developed a tool to verbally communicate his wants and needs. This means that a child can do much more with the help of a speech therapist and caring adults who use words on purpose. when talking to them.


Echolalia occurs in your autistic child for a variety of reasons, and each person on the autism spectrum has a unique experience. Understanding the forms of echolalia and why your child uses them in different contexts will help you understand your child's language development.

Get the word of drug information

People with autistic children and the professionals who support them already know how difficult echolalia can be. You will most likely have stories from your own conversations that range from disturbing, such as an awkward public episode, to cute and funny anecdotes about the 'weird' way your child sees and describes the world.

Almost all parents do this. It helps to know that there is a lot of support and to remember that echolalia itself is an encouraging sign that your child may develop a more typical use of language.

Frequently asked questions

  • There's no need. Echolalia is a normal stage in speech development in early childhood, and babies usually outgrow it by the time they turn three.

    In older children and adults, echolalia is a common symptom of autism, but it can also occur in people with aphasia, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and schizophrenia.

  • Yes, echolalia can be treated with speech therapy and play therapy. Talk to your child's doctor about seeing a speech pathologist who treats echolalia.

  • Both echolalia and palilalia involve the involuntary repetition of words and phrases. The difference is that in Palilalia, a person repeats the words they just said (often in a low voice), while in echolalia, the words are an echo of what another person said.

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