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Dealing with Echolalia

posted Sep 16, 2013, 12:17 AM by Devorah Levin   [ updated Sep 16, 2013, 12:17 AM ]

Excerpt from
By: Laura Mize

1.  Model language from your child’s point of view.  Model the kinds of words and phrases he can actually imitate AND understand.  Narrating play with a child who is echolalic is EXCELLENT because he will likely rehearse this even when he plays independently.  

Be sure to provide words (even ones you’d prefer he not say) for activities rather than what you’d probably normally say.  For example, if he’s trying to refuse an activity, model, “No” or “Don’t like it.”  If a sibling or peer is taking a toy, help your child learn to say, “Stop,” or “Mine.”  Many parents don’t like the idea of “teaching” their children these unpleasant, impolite words, but then again, I’d rather hear a word rather than a scream, or deal with a child who’s been bitten or hit (or is the biter or hitter), all because we failed to teach an appropriate response.         

When you’re reading books (often a favorite activity for this kind of kid because they like visual, repetitive, and predictable information), point to and label the pictures using single words at first and then short descriptive comments as his comprehension skills improve.  If he doesn’t name the pictures as you’re naming, take his finger and pause to give him a chance to “echo” what you’ve taught him previously.  While many experts recommend this is a great way to increase vocabulary initially, don’t over-use books and pictures.  Be sure to play with toys MOST OF THE TIME since children like this generally need more help learning to use language during everyday activities.  Reading books, looking at flashcards, and naming pictures from videos are NOT functional or useful skills when your toddler is in the kitchen and can’t figure out how to tell you he’s thirsty and wants milk!                    

2.   Don’t ask your child “Do you want……” questions since he will initiate his requests by saying, “Do you want …..?”  In this kind of situation model what he should say if you know what he wants.  For example, if he’s reaching for an object, say the item’s name or model, “I want the ________.”  If you’ve already messed this up and your child is doing this, model his name as you give it to him and say, “_____ wants the _________.” 

One thing I do is respond to a question like this literally by saying, “No, Laura doesn’t want the _________, but _child’s name does.”  Then model, “I want ________.”  Wait until she repeats this phrase as the request before giving him the item.    

Once a child’s language has become more advanced, ask the question, but offer responses at the end.  ”Do you want ice cream, yes or no?”  Again watch your tone so that you’re not modeling the question inflection for the yes/no response part of the question.  

3.  When offering choices, also drop the “Do you want   _____ or _______?”  Model the names without the question tone at the end and holding each one forward when offering the choices.  If your child is reaching for one, again model the objects’ name and withhold until he repeats you. 

One expert suggested using a fill-in-the-blank format.  Offer the choices by modeling the words in a statement tone of voice (not a questioning intonation) and then adding, ”Child’s name wants…..”  Wait for him to complete the phrase, then give the object.  

4.  Stop asking other questions like, “Do you need some help?” or “Should I hold you?”  Model what your child should say before and while you’re doing what he needs.  Try, “Help,” or “Hold me.”  Also drop the question tone since your child may also imitate this voice pattern.  Later you can start to wait a while and expectantly look at him for his “echoed” request. 

5.  Be careful how you respond to requests.  If you’re saying, “Okay” habitually after a request, your child may also incorporate this into his script saying something like, “Help you?  Okay.”  To avoid this, either perform the request without a verbal response, or vary what you say so that he’s not “locked in” to a particular pattern.          

6.  Avoid using praise such as, “Good job ______” or the more stupid phrase, ”Good talking __________” with the child’s name since she will often imitate this.  If you can’t stop yourself, at least don’t use her name.  I try to use lots of hugs, smiles, and cheer, “Yay” to replace this habit.  It sounds less abnormal when a child cheers to congratulate himself when he’s not using his own name.     

7.  Avoid greeting or closing using the child’s name since he will always repeat the way you’ve said it instead of using your name.  (By the way - I screw this up regularly!)  Use just, “Hi” and “Bye.”  Hard to remember!  You may also try other good-byes such as, “See you later!” or “Be right back,” since it’s okay if a child echoes these.

Several sources recommended using a verbal cue such as calling the child’s name first or touching him and then using your greeting or closing. 

8.  When you notice your child echoing, look at this as an opportunity to teach him what he needs to know.  Model the way he should say something and wait.  

9.  Sometimes echolalia is a child’s response when his system is overstimulated.  Children who are tired, hungry, scared, sick, extremely bored, or overwhelmed often lapse into echolalia as a way to self-calm.  Analyze the situation and see what kind of support you can provide to them environmentally before you begin to look for ways to eliminate the echolalia.    

For more, Click here to see more of Laura Mize's  fantastically practical tips for helping you deal with your child echoing everything you say.
Click here for more methods to dealing with echolalia.
Click here for an easy and quick technique

Just because your child says it, doesn't mean s/he it understands it! Echolalia often occurs due to an underlying auditory processing/receptive language problem.  Repetition often occurs when there is lack of understanding the question or know how to respond correctly - or perhaps both. Work on helping your child learn to understand more, and his spontaneous language should increase. Echolalia should diminish as language processing, comprehension and vocabulary improve.

Question: Jake has Echolalia. When another child asks him “can I play?”, Jake often seems not to hear and ignores the question. I gain his attention and ask friend to repeat his question.  Jake responds by echoing, "can I play." I then model, "Yes."What else can I do to help Jake?

Firstly, when Jake appears not to have heard, understood, or processed the original question, you can model, “What?” or “What did you say?”  so he learns this very functional sentence to help him learn to ask for clarification when he needs it. 
Additionally, you can try the “Yes or no?” technique by saying "Can friend play, yes or no." so that he can independently choose his answer.  If he’s more confused by this, try just shaking your head “yes” to see if this will cue the word rather than having him directly imitate "Yes."  Treating echolalia is hard!