Understanding echolalia and ways to make it meaningful

Echolalia is the parrot like repetition of words or sentences that the child has heard. It can be repeated immediately or at a later stage. Many children with Autism go through a period of echolalia and use less and less echolalia as they learn more language skills. An example of immediate echolalia would be when someone asks the child “how are you?” and the child repeats “how are you?” It may not have meaning to the child, they are just repeating it. 

Echolalia is used by the child as a means of processing and storing words.  They process language as a whole. For instance when you say “eat your food”, the child processes it as “eatyourfood” and associates it with food and then with time begins to break it down into words and understand each word. It is considered as a normal phase of language development in children who have speech and language delays. 

Echolalia has a communicative purpose. For example a child who wants to go out may say “put your shoes” as his way of expressing his need to go out since his mother says this every time they go out. A child who repeats questions may need help in learning the meaning of words or clues to help him frame the appropriate answer. A child who keeps repeating another person’s speech may just be trying to take part in the conversation. It is important to understand that echolalia is not a form of verbal stereotypical behavior. 

The presence of echolalia can be identified as a positive sign and paves way for further language development. The persistence of echolalia may indicate that the child is stuck at the stage of development and needs help to overcome it by learning more normal speech patterns.

Regardless of the usefulness of echolalia, it can interfere with social interaction and learning of the child. Therefore it is important that echolalia is shaped into meaningful speech. There are ways to significantly reduce echolalia and make the speech more meaningful.

  1. Avoid greeting the child using his name as he will repeat it instead of using your name.
  2. The key to shaping echolalia is to model every word the way you want the child to say. Provide words or sentences for activities which the child may have to use later. For example if the child is refusing an activity you may model the words “NO NO” or “I want some other activity” so that he may learn the words.
  3. Try not to ask questions like “Do you want _ (object/ activity) ___”? The child may just repeat the question. Instead if you see the child reaching out for some object, model “I want _ (the name of that specific object/ activity) ___” and wait till the child repeats the phrase and then give the object to him. On doing this consistently the child will learn to associate the sentence modeled to the situation and start using it spontaneously. 
  4. When the child needs help, do not ask questions like “do you need help?” instead model “help” or “help me to fix this” “help me put my shoes”, “help me wash my hands”. 
  5.  Do not use praise like “good job (the child’s name)” as he will often imitate this. Instead use lots of smile, cheer or “yay” which may be more meaningful when the child imitates after each task.  
  6. Choice making may be difficult for children with echolalia as they do not process the meaning of spoken sentences. They just tend to echo what is heard. To help them understand, try presenting visual cues (the picture or the object) of the two choices that you intend to present to the child. Speak slowly mentioning the two choices clearly. To make it easier, if you know what the child would choose, you could prolong that particular word by giving him a hint on what he might want to choose. 
  7. Every time you ask a question to the child immediately prompt the answer to him. For example 

You: what color is your shirt? (You immediately prompt the answer)

Your prompt: my shirt is yellow in color.

Child: My shirt is yellow in color. 

Do not give an opportunity for the child to repeat the question. 

  1. Generally children who are tired, hungry, scared, extremely bored, or overwhelmed often lapse into echolalia as a way to self-calm. It is important to analyze the situation and see what kind of support you can provide to them environmentally which will augment the other strategies.      

The key to shape echolalia into meaningful speech is consistency and repetition. Teaching has to happen consistently at all situations and has to keep happening repeatedly. 

Vaishnaavi Nagarajan 


  1. Echolalia.(2019, November 13). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/echolalia
  2. (n.d) Retrieved from https:// www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/3-Things-You-Should-Know-About-Echolalia.as.px.
  3. Davis, K. G., Davis, K. G., & Davis, K. G. (2018, March 20). Echoes of Language Development: 7 Facts About Echolalia for SLPs. Retrieved from https://blog.asha.org/2017/05/09/echoes-of-language-development-7-facts-about-echolalia-for-slps/.



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