Echolalia is a communication behavior that is characterized by “echoing” the words of a communication partner. For example, if an adult says to a child, “Hello, David,” a child using echolalia would respond by saying “Hello, David.” Echolalia is commonly seen in children with autism. Children with receptive or expressive language difficulties may also use echolalia as a way to respond when they are unsure or unable to produce their own utterance. Since a child who uses echolalia repeats virtually everything that is said to them, it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin in therapy. The following approaches may be helpful.
- Narrate the child’s play. Play is often the most functional way for children to learn language. While reading books may build the child’s vocabulary, it may also teach the child more scripts to echo. Play lends itself to novel, spontaneous utterances. It also elicits real-world expressions that children can use throughout their day.
- Limit the number of questions you ask the child. Model appropriate requests/answers instead. For example, when a child is reaching for a ball, instead of saying “Do you want the ball?” model a request, such as “Ball, please.”
- Offer choices visually. Instead of saying “Do you want the doll or the truck?” you might hold up both items and model their names, then wait for the child to say the name of the one they want.
- Use picture exchange as a physical and visual support. The action of handing the therapist a picture can be a more salient way for a child to learn the “back and forth” of communication.
- Model flexibility and variety. Don’t let the child get stuck with “I want [water.]” Even as you respond to their question by giving what they want, model additional ways they may have said it, such as “Could I have [water]?” or even “I’m thirsty.”
- Avoid using the child’s name in greetings. Instead of saying, “Hi, Bradley,” try simply saying “Hi!” That way, when they echo your “Hi,” or your “Bye,” it sounds more natural.
- Teach words like “No,” “Mine,” and “Stop.” Some parents shy away from teaching these words because they don’t sound nice. However, if a child doesn’t have these words in their repertoire, they may resort to hitting, kicking, or other unwanted behaviors in order to communicate these concepts.
- Elicit the help of another adult or child to model reciprocity. It can be difficult to model a communication exchange without another person present. Parents, siblings, and classmates are often eager to help out, and their involvement in therapy will promote carryover into the home or classroom.
- Sometimes children lapse into echolalia when tired, bored, sick, or overstimulated. Watch the child’s cues to determine what they might need and address those needs before trying to move forward with treating the echolalia.
We hope you find these tips useful for helping your students who practice echolalia. While you’re here, browse through the education resources shared by our team of teachers, therapists, and other school support professionals. Enjoy!