Echolalia – Repetitive Speech (What It Is and What It Means)

Echolalia is the natural occurrence which is a part of language acquisition in infants. “It’s a bread!” said the mother, to this, the child repeated, “It’s a bread!”

Ever thought why this happened? What it this? Does it have different types? Why is it associated with Autism? Is it associated with any other disorders such as Tourette’s, dementia, etc?

In this article, you will read on to find everything you need to know about echolalia. It’s types, purposes, happenings in the brain and so much more.

Echolalia definition

Echolalia(echologia or echophrasia) is the condition which is interpreted as people unsolicitedly repeating noises and phrases that they hear. The word “echolalia” comes from the Greek which was first recorded in the year 1880-85. The meaning of “echo” is “to repeat”, and laliá means “speech” or “talk”. It is a type of echo phenomena, which is related to echopraxia, i.e. automatic mimicry of movements done by another person.

Both of them are referred as the subsets of imitative behaviour. Whereas sounds or actions are imitated being unaware. They might not be able to communicate effectively as they might struggle while expressing their thoughts.

Echolalia example

For example, A person having echolalia might repeat the question rather than answering it. In many cases, echolalia is also designated as an attempt to communicate, learn, or practice the language. In the extreme form, it is automatic as well as effortless. It may be an immediate reaction to a stimulus or it may be delayed for some time.

People may get demented between Echolalia and Tourette Syndrome. But the reality says both of them are disparate from each other. Where the speaker suddenly starts yelling or blabbering random things as part of their twitch. In such cases, the speaker loses his control over what or when they say it. Echolalia sometimes considered as a sign of autism, any other neurological condition, a visual impairment or even a developmental disability.

Repetitive speech is common in toddlers who are learning to communicate as it is a common part of language development in them. As they reach the age of 2, most young ones start mixing their own utterances or remarks along with repetitions. Whereas by age 3, echolalia will be minimal or nonexistent in most toddlers. After reaching this stage children are capable of expressing their thoughts using simple sentences in order to communicate with others.

The chances of having echolalia further into childhood are common for children with autism or any other developmental delays. Especially if the child is experiencing delayed speech development. One needs to identify why and how the child may be using echolalia. It will help in created a custom treatment plan for the child. Consulting an expert Speech-language-pathologist can be helpful to pinpoint the cause and treat the language delay.

What does it mean when this stage surpasses toddler years? How does it function?

Echolalia Symptoms

Repeating the phrases and noises heard before are the main symptoms of echolalia. The symptoms can be either immediate, i.e repeating words or phrases right away after hearing them. Whereas it can also be delayed, i.e. repeating words or phrases hours or days after hearing them.

Some other signs are:

  • frustration during conversations
  • depression
  • muteness
  • Unusually irritable, especially if asked questions.

Causes & Risk Factor for Echolalia in adults

Echolalia is experienced by every child as they learn a spoken language. Most children develop their own independent thoughts as they age. But some of them continue to repeat words or phrases they hear. If the child is having some communication disabilities, they hold on to mimic what they hear for much longer. Autistic children are more susceptible to echolalia.

Some people may experience this issue if they are distressed or anxious. While others experience it every time. This may cause them to remain mute as they are unable to express their thoughts.

Echolalia may be experienced by those adults suffering from severe amnesia or head trauma, as they try to regain their speaking abilities after that trauma.

Types

Two basic forms of echolalia are immediate and delayed echolalia.  Their presence tells something about the child trying to process language.

  • Immediate echolalia: This type refers to repeating the words, phrase or an entire sentences immediately after someone has just said. For example, If someone asks a child “Are you thirsty” the child might answer “thirsty” however the possibility is that the child may be really thirsty or not. Frustration, as well as meltdowns, can often be the outcomes of Immediate echolalia. The reason being the inability of the child to convey his needs and desires.
  • Delayed echolalia: This type refers to repeating the words, phrase or an entire sentences after a certain time passes, which varies from hours to years later. Diagnosing this type is really difficult as it happens after a certain time passes. The listener might be unaware of the original words or sentences uttered. The listener may not even notice the delayed echolalia, unless the speaker’s syntax, vocabulary, and the message is different than the normal.

Diagnosing Echolalia

Echolalia can be diagnosed by a professional while conversing with the person with echolalia. If that person struggles to do anything other than repeating what they have been asked to, then they may have echolalia. Some autistic children are regularly tested for this as they go for speech lessons.

Echolalia varies from being minor to severe on the basis of professional diagnosis. After identification of its stage and appropriate treatment will be prescribed.

Treatments for Echolalia

There are certain treatment options available for treating Echolalia. It may be treated using any of the method or the combination of the available methods:

Speech Therapy

Some people with echolalia attend regular speech therapy sessions. So that they can learn how to express their own thoughts in front of people.

For intermediate echolalia, a behavioral intervention called “cues-pause-point” is often used. In this treatment, the speech therapist asks the echolalic person to answer some questions correctly. Tells them to answer if they’ll point to them on time. Then, the questionnaire starts, such as “What’s your age?” After a pause, the speaker is prompted to answer. A cue card will be there having the correct answer.

Medications

Antidepressants or anxiety medications can be prescribed by a professional to combat the side effects of echolalia. These are only meant to calm the patient, doesn’t treat echolalia. Since the symptoms may increase due to stress or anxiety, the calming effect will be helpful to reduce the severity of the condition.

Home Care

Family members may help people with echolalia to develop their communication skills. Many texts and online training programs are available for helping parents to get positive responses from their echolalic child. Encourage the child to use their limited vocabulary. This may help them to learn to communicate more effectively.

Associated Disorders

Autism

Autism is most commonly associated disorder with Echolalia. As per the researchers, the immediate type is much common as these children still haven’t developed language process of their own. Therefore, they cannot produce any spontaneous speech to express their thoughts and feeling, therefore repeating what they hear. On the contrary, autistic children use the delayed type for other purposes, which are:

  • Self-stimulation: Autistic children tend to use echolalia to entertain themselves with things they are interested in. It also serves a purpose of keeping them from social interactions. This can be used by Caretakers to redirect their behavior into a constructive one.
  • Communicating the Mood: Since spontaneous language hasn’t developed yet in an autistic child. They associate language given to them with emotions at certain times. They later use these phrases or words to express their emotion. For example, a mother directs her son to not use his favorite toy as the “Toy is broken”, the child is visibly sad. Some days later mother tells the same child that “daddy is going to work” and the child replies the “Toy is broken”. He is trying to communicate his sadness that his father is going even though he can’t use the correct words. They associate certain words with the feelings and later repeat them to express their emotion. If it happens, try to redirect their emotions. For example, “I know your sadness but daddy will be back soon.” Children tend to become more echolalic due to the pressure to communicate their feelings, which leads to stress.
  • Processing Memories: It refers to the use of echolalia in order to process the memories which comes to the surface of their mind. For example, a child may remember something said by their teacher after school and repeat it to organize and manage the memories.

Non-interactive echolalia is also used by autistic children, especially for self-regulation and self-direction. Self-regulation time with an autistic child can lead to meltdowns.

Aphasia

Aphasia is related to brain damage due to which the person’s ability to understand spoken or written speech and language function deteriorate rapidly. Due to these symptoms, the person gets the tendency to repeat everything he hears. In transcortical aphasias, echolalia is very common when deterioration starts happening. After a stroke echolalia tends to recover in perisylvian aphasias. It may have the similar function as in infant learning to speak.

Dementia

Dementia may be one of the consequences of a Brain injury or brain disease. It is a chronic mental process disorder including memory. They have the tendency for the impaired reasoning. They can no longer produce spontaneous speech, leading to echolalia due to the memory loss and comprehensive loss capacity.

Tourette’s Syndrome

Distinguishing twitches for Tourette syndrome (TS) are Echolalia and echopraxia. The echolalic repetitions of people with TS are basically echoes from within their own “twitch repertoire”. The inadequate imitation-control mechanism makes a healthy mirror neuron system (MNS) vulnerable to interferences”, as pointed by evidence.

Tourette’s is another common syndrome with echo phenomena (echolalia and echopraxia). The person has the tendency to repeat involuntarily whatever they listen. It becomes frustrating due to the inability of the person to control what they say and when they say it.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is characterized by seizures. Occasionally, epileptic people after losing consciousness can wake up having echolalia.

Echolalia and Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is characterized by a chronic and severe mental disorder. It has psychotic symptoms. Due to these symptoms, differentiation between reality and delusions/hallucinations disappears. Delayed echolalia may be there in people, from things they hear, hours, days or even years later.

Outlook and Prevention

Echolalia is considered a natural part of language development in infants. It’s not favorable to prevent it completely. But permanent echolalia in children must be avoided. To do so, parents must encourage their children to use other forms of communication. Exposure to a wide variety of words and phrases will be beneficial for the child. Most children overcome their echolalia naturally.

Hope you this article proved to be informative for you! Feel free to leave a comment below.

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