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Echolalia in A Child With Autism & Other Developmental Needs

If your child has autism or other developmental conditions, you might eventually come to be familiar with the phenomenon known as ‘echolalia’. Echolalia, in the context of child and human development, refers to children repeating the words or sentences used by those around them. This can range from their parents to relatives to speech from their favourite videos or shows.

Repeating the words of those around them is a typical part of children’s early language development; however if it persists with no further development it might be a symptom of autism or another developmental conditon.

It should be stressed that echolalia does not mean that your child is unable to communicate with those around them. It is in fact their own unique way of communicating, albeit in a way that may be difficult for others to understand.

Understanding how to deal with echolalia, as well as seeking external help such as speech therapy, can be effective at bridging the communication gap between you and your child.

What is echolalia?

Echolalia typically develops due to delays in a child’s language acquisition or learning capabilities. The typical progress of language development involves children identifying individual words and putting them together into full sentences; however children with autism or other developmental delaya may not be able to break down phrases into individual words, causing them to repeat the full phrase to convey meaning.

There are two main types of echolalia: immediate, and delayed. Immediate echolalia means the child repeats the words immediately after hearing them, whereas delayed echolalia means they repeat the words or phrases at a later time. This delayed repetition might seem unfamiliar when out of context, but it is usually done with some meaning behind it.

For example, your child may hear you say “Get a basket” when you are at the supermarket, and may repeat the phrase later on to indicate that they want to visit the supermarket again. The phrase may sound very random to you, but it holds a latent meaning for your child. There are a variety of such reasons why children with echolalia speak the way they do.

Another common way echolalia manifests is by children parroting questions asked by their parents, rather than explicitly stating their own wants or needs. If you frequently ask your child “Do you want to read?” before reading a book, they may echo the question back rather than saying “I want to read”.

Not all echolalia is communicative with others. Children may also display non-interactive echolalia where they repeat disjointed words or phrases to themselves. This might be a way for them to pursue self-stimulation or balance their sensory needs in order to avoid sensory overload.

Treating Echolalia in Children

Speech therapy is one of the most common treatment options in Singapore for parents whose children have echolalia, and is most effective when paired with early intervention. During the sessions, a speech therapist or speech pathologist will be able to assess your child’s communication and developmental needs to see what approach will suit them best.

Techniques used during the session might include positive reinforcement or behavioural interventions such as “cues-pause-point”. These are intended to teach your child communication skills, expressive language skills, receptive language skills, and articulation and speech production, amongst other outcomes. A speech therapist will also be able to recommend the best ways you can support your child with autism or other developmental conditions at home.

MindChamps Allied Care provides speech assessment and intervention programmes for children in Singapore. Our private speech therapists are qualified to help promote speech and language development, as well as restore your child’s confidence and day-to-day capabilities. Find out more about our early intervention programme or book a consultation with us today.

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