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Understanding the communication disorder Echolalia

Echolalia is a disorder that causes people to repeat sounds or phrases they hear. This habit of repeating becomes a major hurdle in communication for people with the disorder, which is also known as echologia or echophrasia.

When a person with the disorder hears a question, he or she go on to repeat the question instead of answering it. For instance, if a person is asked 'What are you doing?', he or she will repeat the same. This could be repetition of a single word or a whole sentence.

Or in another example, if the question asked is 'What do you want to eat?', the person repeats words like 'want' or 'eat'.

The repetitive speech behavior is commonly seen in very young children as they are learning to communicate and mimic or copy what they hear. This repetitive or mimicking behavior usually goes away by the age of two years and children start forming their own words and sentences instead of repeating what they hear.

Children with communication disabilities and autism are prone to echolalia. So are adults with severe amnesia, head injuries or trauma.

Experts say that echolalia could also be an early sign of autism.

Echolalia is defined as the unsolicited repetition of vocalizations and could be an early sign of autism. Children between the ages of 1-2 years should be echoing or imitating you a lot. That's how they are learning. However, by age two you should see them startint to use their own utterances as well. You may see them continuing to imitate you when you ask a complex question or giving directions, but they should also be using a lot of their own utterances as well. By the age of three they start making their own sentences. If echolalia persist more beyond the age of three, it could be an early sign of a developmental disorder. - Saugandh Pratap Singh, Audiologist & Speech Therapist, Praangan

In some people the symptoms will appear during periods of stress, while in others the condition may be present all the time.


There are broadly two types of echolalia

Immediate echolalia: Here a person repeats what he or she hears immediately at a particular moment.

Delayed echolalia: Here a person repeats something they heard a while back.

In either of these and other forms of echolalia, what is given is that the person wishes to interact but is unable to process the correct response and words that need to be said. So, they say what they can think of at the time.

The severity or seriousness of echolalia varies from person to person and can be diagnosed with the help of an expert.

"Echolalia at a very early age when the child is learning language is common but when it persists after three years, it is a red flag. Speech, occupational and group therapies, as well as role play are some treatment interventions", says Dr Dhara Desai, Occupational Therapist at the Prayatna Early Intervention Program.


- Regular speech therapies can benefit some people. It can train a person or child with echolalia through various activities and practice sessions to respond and speak in a correct manner.

- For some people medication can also be used to enable them to overcome the feeling of depression or frustration that comes as an effect of the communication barriers.

- Online activities and programs can also be used at home for improving language and communication skills.

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