What is echolalia?
One of the characteristics 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.
Immediate or Delayed Echolalia can be an indication that a child is a Gestalt Language Processor. You can read information from ASHA here. A Gestalt Language Processor may learn language in large “chunks” and work their way down to single words.
For coursework designed for SLPs and parents to understand and navigate Gestalt Language, scripting, and Echolalia, check out Meaningful Speech.
Examples of Immediate Echolalia:
- “Lucas, would you like some crackers?” Mom “Like some crackers” Lucas
- “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.
Examples of Delayed Echolalia or “Scripting”:
- “For the first time in forever…”
- “I’m on the case!”
I remember watching my son use what I thought was “scripting”, but in context (example: reciting lines from Frozen while looking outside at snow). As a parent, I often heard “unintentional” or “meaningless” language from other professionals, in reference to my child. They didn’t seem meaningless to me, but I didn’t know they had a name: Gestalts.
Who diagnoses echolalia?
No one. It isn’t a specific disorder. It can be a characteristic of autism, so anyone qualified to identify symptoms of autism might point it out (a medical provider, a therapist, even a parent). It can also be a part of normal language development in Gestalt Language Acquisition.
While the concept of Gestalt Language has been around since the 1970s, we are only recently seeing it explicitly taught in university and clinical settings. If you’re a provider and hadn’t heard of this, don’t feel like you are a bad clinician: many of us didn’t know, including me.
What do you do for echolalia?
This depends on a variety of factors, including the cause and intention behind the Echolalia.
- For a Gestalt Language Processor, there is a known sequence of development that includes stages of development. Meaningful Speech has done a great job of presenting this information through coursework.
- Join them. Show them that you’re interested in what they’re interested in. If you aren’t sure what the script or Echolalia means, become a detective and try to figure it out. (Sometimes this takes me weeks…my son is so patient with me!)
- Don’t ignore. These are most likely not nonsense words or meaningless speech; this is communication!
- Don’t forget: us not “getting it” doesn’t equal the child not having meaning or purpose in what they are saying.
Come join me on Instagram: I keep it very real. In fact, what you’re reading has been edited as I’ve learned more about this topic. It’s never too late to learn, or to admit when we were wrong.