4:42 pm - Friday January 18, 1269

Echolalia – a communication challenge

Autism Spectrum Disorders are characterized by difficulty with communication. Those difficulties can present themselves as apraxia, difficulty with talking at all; scripting, which is memorizing whole television shows, plays, movies or tapes, or echolalia.

echoliaEcholalia is repeating utterances heard from another person, usually as a response to the other person. Although not strictly confined to children with autism (it can also appear in individuals with schizophrenia) it is most common among children with autism, and can create significant difficulty for a child as it may prevent him or from initiating interactions with others.

Example: When Jonathon is asked what he would like for breakfast, he responds “What would you like for breakfast?” This is an example of echolalia. In order to get Jonathon to make requests, or mand, the teacher and speech pathologist will use a Picture Exchange System to support independent speech, and provide wait time to let Jonathon process his answer.

Echolalia is a form of imitation, and imitation is important for early learning. In the past echolalia has been considered a troublesome and non-functional behavior. Ironically, a child who is echoic has exhibited the ability to vocally imitate sounds, even words. Getting the child to “steer” the boat rather than just going along for the ride is one of the greatest challenges. Engaging a child with autism and preventing him or her from focusing self-stimulatory behaviors that prevent rather than promote interaction and engagement.

Tools for Addressing Echolalia

Obviously, if a child is able to echo the speech of others, he or she is able to create speech. The challege is to get the student to use the language you know they can imitate. Strategies to help students create language:

Picture Exchange Systems: After you have established communicative intent, you want to find the things, food, or activities that most motivate the echoic child. Then you want to create pictures to help the student create spoken requests. The purpose of PECS for echoic children is not to replace speech, but to support it.

Talking Strips: For many children who are echoic, this simple visual prompting system will support speech.

Gestural Prompting: American Sign Language is a commonly used to support speech. By using gestural rather than verbal prompting, you can escape a lot of the echoic behavior and replace it by pairing it with the gestures.

– By Jerry Webster, Special Education Expert