Echolalia is characterized by a tendency to repeat immediately and spontaneously, like an echo, noises or the words of a speaker.
People with echolalia may be unable to communicate effectively because they have difficulty expressing their own thoughts.
For example, a person may only be able to repeat a question rather than answer it. In many cases, echolalia is an attempt to communicate or learn a language.
It is not the same as Tourette syndrome, where a speaker may suddenly shout or say random things. In this case, the speaker has no control over what he says or when he says it.
Repetitive speech is a common part of language development and is commonly seen in young toddlers learning to communicate. Many children will begin to mix their own utterances with repetitions of what they hear by age 2. The majority of children’s echolalia will be minimal by age 3.
Echolalia is a common symptom for autistic or developmentally delayed children, especially if they are experiencing delayed speech development.
Symptoms of echolalia
The main symptom is the repetition of phrases and noises heard. It can be immediate, with the speaker repeating something immediately after hearing it. The speaker can also be delayed, with the speaker repeating something for hours or days after hearing it.
A person with echolalia may be unusually irritable, especially when asked questions.
Causes and risk factors
All children suffer from echolalia when learning a spoken language. Most develop independent thinking as they age, but some continue to repeat what they hear. Children with communication disabilities retain echoed expressions much longer. Children with autism are particularly susceptible to echolalia.
Some people only experience this problem when they are distressed or anxious. Others experience it all the time, which can eventually make them dumb because they can’t express themselves.
Adults with severe amnesia or head trauma may experience echolalia when trying to regain their speech abilities.
Types of echolalia
There are two broad categories: functional (or interactive) echolalia and non-interactive echolalia, where sounds or words may only be for personal use rather than communication.
It is an attempt at communication intended to be interactional, acting as communication with another person. Examples include:
- the person uses sentences to allow an alternating verbal exchange;
- speech is used to complete familiar verbal forms spoken by others. For example, if people are asked to complete a task, they might say « good job! » while complementing it, echoing what they are used to hearing.
- speech can be used to offer new information, but it can be difficult to make the connections. A mother might ask her child what he wants for lunch, for example, and he’ll sing the song from a lunch meat commercial to say he wants a sandwich.
- the person may say, “Do you want lunch? to signify that she wants her own lunch.
It is generally not intended for communication and is intended for personal use. For example :
- the person with echolalia says something unrelated to the context of the situation, such as reciting excerpts from a television program;
- speech is triggered by a situation, visual, person, or activity, and does not appear to be an attempt to communicate;
- the speaker may say the same phrase softly to himself several times before responding in a normal voice;
- individuals can use guidelines to guide themselves through a process. If they’re making a sandwich, for example, they might say to themselves, “Turn on the water. Use soap. Rinse hands. Turn off the water. Dry hands. Get bread. Put the bread on the plate. Get meat for lunch”, and so on until the process is complete.
A professional can diagnose echolalia by having a conversation with the affected person. If she finds it difficult to do anything other than repeat what has been said, it may affect her.
Echolalia ranges from mild to severe. A doctor can identify the stage of echolalia and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Echolalia can be treated by a combination of the following methods:
Some people with echolalia attend regular speech therapy sessions to learn how to speak their mind.
In this treatment, the speech therapist asks the person with the condition to answer a question correctly.
A doctor may prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to combat the side effects of echolalia. It helps the person to stay calm. Since symptoms can increase when a person is stressed or anxious, the calming effect can help lessen the severity of the condition.
People with echolalia can work with others at home to develop their communication skills.