A few different categories of echolalia are present in all individuals during development. All toddlers display this as they are learning how to develop proper syntax. They immediately repeat a word or phrase that is presented to them, or they remember a phrase and repeat it randomly at a later time. This postponed repetition is called delayed echolalia. In fact, older children often do this jokingly and deliberately to invoke an irritated response from a peer or an adult. Anxious parents of toddlers often bring this up to their medical professional if it persists for a longer period time with concerns that it might be symptomatic of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The fact is, echolalia when paired with pronoun reversal is a symptom of Autism, and this needs to be monitored by a professional to achieve early diagnosis and intervention especially when there are no other original patterns of speech communication. Even if there are initiated and original patterns of speech and language in the child, the fact that the echolalia is present for longer duration than normal could be a symptom of Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high functioning Autism.
What we as parents need to remember when we are dealing with what can feel like a life sentence when we first hear the word, Autism, is that if the child is Autistic, it is better to have echolalia than to not speak at all. In fact, Rehfeldt and Chambers (2003) reported that, “behavior-analytic efforts have shown that similar impairments in language and communication exhibited by persons with autism are often under environmental control, and can be reduced via the systematic arrangement of environmental variables.” This is good news to those who have a child diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum because the child is verbal, and can achieve the components of language eventually with proper intervention. They can learn to communicate effectively and are not starting from ground zero. The speech and ability to form words is present.
I waited four years for my daughter to use words, and when she did, echolalia was present for nearly two years. However, with language scaffolding strategies, and speech therapy, she now initiates speech that displays her own cognitive ability, not an “echo,” and her pronoun usage is correct when forming sentences. There are times when symptoms of echolalia do occur, but those are usually when she is over stimulated. I was glad that my daughter displayed echolalia, it gave me hope when there was none. The silence is over.
Rehfeldt, R. A., & Chambers, M. R. (2003). Functional analysis and treatment of verbal perseverations displayed by an adult with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36(2), 259-261.