Echolalia is when a child repeats words or phrases. It can be a symptom of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it can actually be part of typical development for young children learning language. Repeated phrases could be from TV shows, songs, apps, or even just words that the child hears around home. This behavior is called echolalia.
If your child has echolalia, just understand that this is how your child is learning and growing with their language. There are many children who start learning language in chunks. These children are also called gestalt language processors. Over time, they find meaning within that chunk and break it down into smaller pieces of meaningful language. Just think of this time as an opportunity to play and experiment with language. Just think, typically developing babies start with babbling long strings of sounds. Eventually they figure out how to put those sounds together to make meaningful words. Echolalia can be like that. Language is a process that takes time to develop!
There are several reasons why children repeat things they hear. One reason is that they are trying to communicate something to others. Another reason is that there might be something appealing, a quality or tone in the message that appeals to the child. When you hear a song you like, you want to listen to it again and again. Some children want to hear a phrase or even an entire sequence from their favorite show again and again. It can be comforting, or enjoyable.
If you notice that your child has echolalia, they may continue to develop language on their own. However, some children get stuck in their echolalia. They might need help facilitating their development into more generative, functional communication. Once children are more than 30 months old, we would expect to see more generative language and less echolalia.
If you are concerned about your child’s language development, seek out a licensed speech-language pathologist. Make sure to check into your local school district for early childhood programs your child may qualify for, as well as private clinics. An SLP can evaluate your child and come up with a treatment plan to encourage language development. Ask your potential SLP if they have experience with gestalt language processing, or would be willing to learn more to find someone who specializes in this area.
There are so many good resources for parents and SLPs about echolalia. I highly recommend you check out my top resources for gestalt language processing here! Also, listen to this podcast from the expert, Barry Prizant: A Discussion on Echolalia – with Barry Prizant, Dave Finch, and Rebecca Rosenozweig (on Uniquely Human the Podcast). I also love Marge Blanc’s book, Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum. It’s written for parents and SLPs alike, so don’t worry about it being a dense read!