Echolalia

Echolalia is defined as either immediate or delayed imitation of chunks of speech, frequently not analyzed or spoken at the word level.  “CanIgobáfroom?” is something I frequently hear in typically developing English learners who are newcomers to English.  It is a memorized chunk of words whose purpose is to ask to use the restroom.  Raymond Babbitt, the character of Rain Man (played by Dustin Hoffman) frequently repeated words from Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First” skit as a way to calm himself in stressful situations.

This video on YouTube shows a young woman who is autistic describing and explaining some reasons for immediate and delayed echolalia.

For persons with ASD, echolalia is in part, a language acquisition strategy.  They might repeat the chunk verbatim at first, repeatedly, and then over time the probability of the chunk modifying in structure increases.  So the amount and type of echolalia may be a marker to indicate progression within language development.

There are many functions of echolalia, many of which may be misleading, because the utterance in isolation of context might not be seen as an interactional element of conversational turn-taking.  It can be:

  •  A way to start a conversation
  • Information processing to increase comprehension
  • A response to a question for which one might not know the proper response
  • A way to deal with a stressful situation

An article of note that was recently published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research reported that children with ASD who are also deaf, also on occasion will speak sign language echolalia.

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The above image is honor of my father, who requested that I try to make my website a little more interesting for him, if he’s going to have to read it…

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