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What Is Echolalia? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Jennifer Kinder
Learn what echolalia is and when it's considered normal and abnormal. See what kind of treatment options are available for the condition, and take a quiz after the lesson to measure your understanding.

Echolalia

Jane is worried about her son Tyler's speech development. Jane has noticed that 2-year-old Tyler is not speaking as well as other kids she sees that are his age. In fact, when he does speak, he repeats what she says instead of responds to her. If Jane asks, 'Tyler, do you want a cookie?', he responds with, 'Do you want a cookie?' Jane is worried his copy cat speech means something is wrong with him. She speaks to his pediatrician who then refers him to a speech therapist for evaluation.

Tyler is exhibiting the phenomenon known as echolalia. Echolalia is a speech phenomenon that involves the imitation of words, sentences, or even sounds. The imitation can be immediate or delayed. The above is an example of immediate echolalia.

The following is an example of delayed echolalia:

Adam is a busy 3-year-old who loves school buses. His favorite cartoon is about a school bus who is too scared to go to school. The theme song to his favorite show is the popular song, The Wheels On the Bus Go 'Round and 'Round. Tyler sings this song all day long, much to his parents' chagrin.

Adam's delayed echolalia has taken the form of repeating songs from his favorite shows. As you can likely guess, some echolalia is a normal part of learning. However, it can also be a sign of a developmental problem.

Normal vs. Abnormal Echolalia

Echolalia serves an important role in the early development of language. An important way that babies begin to learn speech is by copying the sounds, words, and eventually the speech patterns of their caregivers. This is why echolalia is normal in children beginning to develop speech around age one up until age four.

As toddlers learn to master language, speech should become more spontaneous and creative and less scripted. When this doesn't occur, it suggests a possible developmental problem. Echolalia can also be considered abnormal when combined with other symptoms such as no eye contact, no pointing, no desire for social interaction with other children, or unusual movements, such as hand flapping. For example, if Adam is able to communicate with his mother when he is hurt or hungry, and shows interest in interacting with other kids, it's likely developmentally appropriate for him to often sing his favorite song.

The continuation of echolalia past when it would be developmentally appropriate, combined with these other symptoms, could be a sign of autism. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that involves difficulties in communicating and socialization.

Treatment

Echolalia used to be discouraged as it was thought to delay the development of more sophisticated speech. It is now viewed as a developmentally appropriate way that babies begin to learn speech. Consequently, when it is considered appropriate in its presentation with a particular child, there is no treatment necessary.

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