What is echolalia?

Guidance from the National Autistic Society (NAS) says that echolalia is one way in which a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may try to communicate with others. Echolalia is the repetition of other people’s words and is a common feature of a child with ASD

The guidance explains:

Echolalia is the repetition of other people’s words and is a common feature of a child with an ASD. It is likely that they are repeating words that they do not understand and are doing so with communicative intent. The NAS emphasises that it is often a good sign if a child is using echolalia, because it shows that the child’s communication is developing. It suggests that in time, the child will begin to use the repeated words and phrases to communicate something significant. It offers the following example: The child may memorise the words that were said to them when they were asked if they would like a drink, and use them later, in a different situation, to ask a question of their own.

Immediate and delayed echolalia

Guidance published by Integrated Treatment Services (ITS) explains that if a child uses echolalia in interaction with people, it is generally a sign that language has been heard and is being processed or learnt. It says that ‘immediate echolalia’ occurs when children begin to understand the function of words but are not yet able to process their meaning quickly enough to give an appropriate reply. ‘Delayed echolalia’ can occur minutes, days or years after the words were first heard, and can be repeated at any time or place. The ITS guidance adds that echolalia may also be used to express mood