Saturday, June 11, 2011

Echo, Echo, Echo, Echolalia!

Ashi as a non-verbal 3 year old.

Nothing gives off that earthy cave-dweller feeling quite like listening to echolalia all day.  Our children get a word or phrase in their mind and then they repeat it a thousand times over.  It can be especially 'fun' when you are trapped in a vehicle, but only if you enjoy counting the number of times your autists repeats one word or phrase!   

Echolalia is actually a unique form of communication commonly used by autists.  If you've heard your young child constantly and  incessantly repeat what he has picked up from various sources, your autist is using echolalia. 

Strings of words can range from just one word to an entire poem; or even a sermon heard at church to an entire full length movie!  Many autists will even use the exact tone(s) of voice(s) if the piece is from a source they listened to.  Fascinating!

Began using echolalia - shortly after turning 4.

While echolalia can be irksome for the parent who is listening to it day in and day out, echolalia is actually an advanced language tool.  If your young autist has started using it, even if it is just one word, count yourself blessed! The beginning of echolalia is foundational  to communicating verbally so be sure to praise it, encourage it and also be prepared to steer it. 

Here's some ways we've used echolalia to not only help our daughter, but also to help instill our values. You can take, tweak, or toss these tips based on your own needs and values.

Reading out loud to baby brother Izaiah at age 5

 Always be thinking about the long run and do imagine your autist speaking one day.  Everything you put into him is going to come flowing out when and where you least expect it.  You don't want to be embarassed!   Even if your child is always non-verbal, he will still express himself in some way: art, music, construction, dance, writing.  So, be mindful of what he sees and hears.

Instead of TV, we read gazillions of books, watched educational videos and children's movies.  We also read the Bible and poetry. This is the data that was stored in my daughter's head when she began using echolalia, thankfully(!) because they will do it in public.

Our autist craves and is comforted by reading and memorizing scores of information. Teaching her to use a mouse and how to navigate the internet allows her to use parent approved websites to constantly feed that need.  The more data she stores, the more likely she is to have something that she can retrieve during a conversation.

Reading to Guinea Pigs age 6
Once our daughter began speaking, it was still hard for her to strike up conversations with other kids. Since she could read, I simply wrote a script for her to follow:  "Hi! My name is Ashi.  I am 5 years old.  Would you like to play?"  It was robotic at first; but perfect for Ashi.  It didn't take long and she was ad-libbing.  Nearly all of that "spontaneous" conversation was really just memorized from books; but that's okay! The script gave her a comfort zone to start and she became more creative when she was ready.

Practicing with the mouse at age 4  1/2

Echolalia is so intriguing; not only does memorizing and repeating help with language, communication, and social skills, an autist may also use it like stimming.  It can  provide great comfort or can be a tell-tale warning sign that your autist may be nervous or frustrated.

Ashi at her own laptop age 7

Echolalia can also look like this:
Parent asks, "Would you like some milk?" 
Child echoes, "Would you like some milk?"

Instead of answering your question, your child may wander ( in his mind)  from a glass of milk to thinking about glass, sand, the beach; or liquid, cows, farms, tractors; or white, primary colors, prisms, rainbows.  It is my opinion that he is repeating your question in an attempt to stay focused on the question and not go down all those tangents, but he gets stuck on the question and can't quite get to the answer.

So, try asking like this: "Would you like milk, Yes or no?"  This cuts off his bombarding thoughts because his answer is scripted for him, "Yes or no."  He still gets to choose, but this will help him stay focused on whether or not he wants milk instead of thinking about the tractor at the farm with the cow who makes the milk.

Stating your questions this way is also modelling conversation. You ask the question and made it simple to answer by having 2 scripted options, and most importantly, you've just had a dialogue with your autist!  Once he has mastered this type of dialogue, he can baby step to a more complex conversation. 

See, living in a cave isn't so bad afterall!  See, living in a cave isn't so bad afterall!  See, living in a cave isn't so bad afterall!  See, living in a cave isn't so bad afterall!  See, living in a cave......

Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young autists.  Her own autist was non-verbal past the age of 4.  Now at age 7, she will not be quiet!  The greatest tools were lots of books, the computer, a load of patience, practice and a mountain of love.  It took Ashi about a year of answering simple "yes or no questions" before moving on to more complex dialogue.  She still uses echolalia daily.  Annie counted the phrase "We want Morphin Marty,  yes we do!" repeated 198 times on the way to Wal-Mart one afternoon.

Annie has 2 published children's books about autism that also comfort the parent.  They can be found at   Annie has a 3rd book intended to be released by Thanksgiving this year.


  1. My 11 yr old does that too. Gotta love it! His favorite phrase lately is "Peanut butter- is it worth it?" Sometimes he changes the first part. :)

  2. AnnieEskeldson Added: 18 Jun, 2011 12:59 am

    Hey JCannaster - It seems as she really did come out of her shell about age 6. Now, she does still need her own space at times. She will withdraw to her own space and then return when she is ready. But, she is friendly and pleasant with nearly anyone, will ask questions, can be conversational, some of it her own, some of it echolalia ( stuff she's memorized from books and internet). She is very gentle, polite, and has manners. delete

    jcannaster Added: 17 Jun, 2011 2:40 pm

    So would you say that she basically came out of her shell at age 6 and became super social with everyone? That's a wonderful story and a great method memorizing the script. It obviously worked for you and your daughter is excelling in more ways than one delete

    AnnieEskeldson Added: 17 Jun, 2011 12:17 am

    Thanks once again you all for your support. @ Myson Jackson - my daughter could read by the age of 2. She did not speak until after the age of 4. Once she began to speak, she had great difficulty striking up a conversation. So, I indeed wrote a script for her that she could memorize ( memorizing great pieces of information is a stim for her), and so when we met children at the park (for example) she would repeat the script. It went like this :

    Hi! My name is Ashi. I am five years old. Would you like to play?

    She was very unsocial until about the age of 6, when she just blossomed socially, so after repeating this script, she was typically burned out on socializing after just these 3 sentences! But, gradually she became more comfortable and creative and she would add her own. But this gave her a starting point, let her get familiar by first reading - which is her comfort zone, and then she had the space to be as social as she wanted at her own pace. Today at 7, she is very social. We homeschool and I've never pushed that on her, she's always done it as she was ready and that has been the best for her. delete

    Michelley Added: 16 Jun, 2011 7:28 pm

    I am a school teacher, and so many of my kids do this... delete

    daiel_boyd Added: 16 Jun, 2011 2:23 pm

    Wow love this post and oh so familiar with echolalia ! delete

    MysonJACKSON Added: 15 Jun, 2011 1:16 pm

    Do you think she was able to follow the script, and did it help you think? That sounds like an amazing idea...

    At what age did your daughter start reading! She's so young ! delete

    BarbaraHutch Added: 14 Jun, 2011 3:23 pm

    Like the perspective that the child might be repeating our questions, in order to stay focused on the questions / topic.

    Never thought about it that way...good point. delete

    CarlWilliams Added: 13 Jun, 2011 3:42 pm

    These are great tips on Echolalia, Annie. Thanks for the post... delete

    sschell73 Added: 13 Jun, 2011 9:33 am

    Way to go!!! delete

  3. I loved reading this! My daughter is 7 also, and autistic, and very, very into echolalia! We figured out that "yes or no" after questions early on! The problem is, she usually repeats back the whole thing "Do you want ice cream, yes or no?" which doesn't answer the question! Good advice about the swearing. The times Janey has been around people who let the occasional 4 letter word out, she picked up on it IMMEDIATELY---probably because the words were said with emphasis. Thanks for writing!

  4. Your articles and contents are encouraging.
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