Echolalia and Autism: Dealing with Trigger Words

“No!”, ”elephant”, “bathroom”, can be perfect examples of words that ASD children can repeat over and over with moms not knowing what to do.

The reason for trigger words is simple, these are words that children hear often and they repeat because their brains want to stick to the words they know, so they repeat them over, and over.
This can be overwhelming to parents because many times this words might have no sense in the space they are at.

What is Echolalia?

Echolalia describes the precise repetition, or echoing, of words and sounds.

All children experience echolalia when they learn a spoken language. Most develop independent thought as they age, but some continue to repeat what they hear. Children with communication disabilities hold on to echoed expressions much longer because it helps their brain develop communicational abilities.

Echolalia in Autism

Many children with autism do use words (sometimes very complex )—but their words are said in the same order, and usually in the same tone, as those, they have heard on T.V., in a book, from their teacher, or from some other source. Echolalia in autism can have one of several purposes, or its purpose can change over time. It’s also possible for a person to use echolalia for multiple purposes at the same time.

– Self-talk: Memorized phrases can also be a tool for “self-talk.” For example, a child might talk himself through a difficult process using phrases she’s heard from parents, teachers, or television.

– Self-stimulation: Children may use echolalia as a sensory outlet: a way to calm themselves when they’re anxious or cope with overwhelming sensory challenges. When this is the case, echolalia can be thought of a form of stimming.

– Communication: Many times echolalia is used when the child can not find the right words to communicate himself, so he repeats what he hears around because his brain is trying to build phrases to communicate. For many children with autism, echolalia is an important first step toward more typical forms of spoken communication.

Functional Vs. Non-Functional Echolalia

Echolalia can be functional and non-functional in an ASD child.

Functional echolalia can be seen when a child repeats a word he saw on T.V. (For example: Got Milk!) and then he uses the word in related situations (For example when he is thirsty). In functional echolalia children copy the words they hear to implement them later on in similar situations.

In non-functional echolalia, the children repeat words but they have no real understanding of what they are saying. For example, children are able to memorize whole T.V. episodes without really understanding the meaning of the phrases.

Dealing with Echolalia

Echolia can be a positive thing for ASD children, and today we want to share with you a couple tools to deal with it in a positive way:

– Celebration: In functional echolalia, the repetition of words serves the child for communication. In this cases, we highly recommend celebrating your child’s effort to communicate with you effectively. A happy dance, a cheerful hug, or even a healthy treat can be big motivators for your child.

– Playtime: When echolalia is non-functional it can be pointing to an overwhelmed child. In this case, we recommend to take your child for a walk in a calm place or simply just play with him. Remember that non-functional echolalia has the purpose of calming the child down in stressful situations for him, so doing something he likes can be a great way to help him out.

– Be patient: In the long run, your child’s echolalic speech will almost certainly become more typical and functional. Even if your child never develops typical communication skills, using words to self-calm is always better than aggressive behavior. So be patient and keep in mind that this is serving a purpose and it will be worth it at the end.

Echolalia has a way to help ASD children communicate better or as a sensory outlet. In both cases, trying to eradicate echolalia is not a good idea.

At World Stem Cell Clinic, we believe that that having an informed parent –in an effort to empower him and his family– is the only way to for us to deliver optimal healthcare. Visit our website to find out more about our services and let us be part of your journey.