The Purpose of Echolalia
Echolalia is a form of communication where a person repeats back what has been said. This can be in two ways either immediate echolalia where it is immediately repeated back or delayed echolalia where something is repeated back from something said previously perhaps in an earlier conversation or from something heard through TV or radio for example.
There are multiple reasons as to why an autistic person might use echolalia as a form of communication;
1. Not knowing what to say and how to respond
2. Knowing that they should respond and say something back but not sure what
3. To help them with processing what has been said to them
4. Used in context as the structure has been created already
5. Used as an affirmative to a question
6. Perhaps they feel like there is too much pressure on them and they do not know how to respond or are not given enough time to respond.
Often echolalia will recreate exactly the same tone and intonation that was heard initially and can be perceived somewhat mocking, but it is not.
For some autistic people echolalia is their main form of communication and for others it occurs more sporadically.
So, what can you do when you are engaged in a conversation with a person using echolalia;
1. Don’t be offended or perceive it as mocking, appreciate and accept it as communication.
2. Don’t repeat the same thing or add more words in assumption that that the person hasn’t understood – this interrupts their processing flow and time and means they have to start again each time you say something.
3. Allow plenty of processing time once you have said something as their immediate response could be echolalia to help them process what has been said, then require some thinking time and then require some time to work out what to respond with next.
4. After allowing enough time, consider how you respond to the delayed or immediate echolalia in a non-judgemental and communicative way, interpret what has been said to as communicative.
You may notice that echolalia increases for an individual during times of stress, this serves as a static protective system to help cope with a dynamic situation that may feel unpredictable or too uncertain. When this happens recognise it as an indication that the individual may need support to reduce the stimulation that is causing stress for them.
If you would like to learn more about how you can support your child in these situations please contact me at email@example.com to arrange a free discovery session to discuss relevant support available to you.