What is Echolalia?
Many Autistic people display a behavior called echolalia. It is repeating words they hear from others, or in digital content, such as television, music or video games. They can repeat it right after they hear it, or later on. As an Autistic woman myself, I have this trait too. It is not the same as intentionally mimicking someone to annoy others.
How Can I Tell If My Behavior or My Child’s Behavior is Echolalia, or Just Plain Mimicking?
The difference between echolalia and mimicking, is with echolalia, it is done without thinking about it. When people mimick with the intent to annoy others, it is thought of, ahead of time. Echolalia is involuntary and doesn’t need to be thought of in advance.
Why Do Autistic People Exhibit this Behavior?
People with Autism display this behavior for various reasons. In young children, it is a way of developing their language skills and learning how to speak if they are verbal. In older children, teenagers and adults, it is a way of accommodating their struggles with auditory processing issues. As an Autistic woman myself, I do it, because I struggle with auditory processing issues and am hard of hearing, because of it. I also struggle to process information that I see, read and hear, due to the effects of Autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder. Also, for some, this behavior helps with sensory overload when sound becomes too much to handle. It can prevent meltdowns for some.
It is easy to assume that an Autistic person displaying this behavior is being rude and mimicking to annoy others. There is a high chance they are repeating what they hear to process what they hear. It is a form of verbal stimming. When I was in high school, I was repeating bits and pieces of what my teacher was saying and I didn’t realize I was saying those things aloud. So my teacher said, “Why are you mimicking me? Are you a parrot?”. As a parrot owner since the age of 13, my response was, “No, but I own an Amazon parrot. Would you like her to come to school with me?”. My teacher had nothing to say to that. I didn’t know what echolalia was at the time, so I couldn’t tell her that was what it was.
How Do I Help Myself or My Child?
The answer to this question is not an easy one. Echolalia is not something one can control, so trying to make your child overcome it will only upset your child and hold them back from developing cognitively. It can harm them emotionally to keep them from repeating what they hear. It is no different than taking away a wheelchair or walking aids from someone who is unable to walk. Do you feel it is fair to hold an Autistic person back from helping themselves process information and preventing meltdowns? Some unusual Autistic behaviors prevent severe meltdowns and should be accepted.
What are your thoughts on echolalia? Please keep the comments tactful and respectful, but we would like to hear from you in the comments below!