Thursday, August 5, 2010

Echolalia - "Are you okay?"

One of our son's biggest hurdles along the way has been his speech. He would refuse to work with his speech therapists during our time with Ealry Intervention and what little work they managed to get out of him was done through tears. We changed therapists a few times to try and find one he worked better with but the sessions were not that much better. He would save the biggest and most severe tantrums for the speech therapists. He would force himself to vomit at the beginning of every session. While we knew he had a speech delay it became apparent that even the thought of having to speak would get him angry. How could we get him to even make one word requests? If we could get him to use "eat" or "tired" or "juice", that would have made a world of difference. We had to guess at what he wanted most of the time because he wouldn't use any words. If we guessed wrong he would scream and cry. He was as frustrated as we were because we weren't always able to guess correctly.

After a lot of work and even more patience he began to repeat a few words in order to get what he wanted. "Juice" became our favorite word because it was the one he used first and it represented a major breakthrough in his speaking abilities. That and "movie" were the extent of his spontaneous speech, which makes sense because those were and continue to be his two favorite things in the world. What also became evident very early on was that Diego is echolalic, as I'm sure many other parents of children with autism have discovered about their own kids. He repeats the word "say" when prompted by my wife and I to "Say please" or "Say thank you..." When given a food item or toy he does not want he will say to us, "You don't want it?" in the form of a question because he has heard us repeatedly ask him this. For a long time after tripping, or throwing himself down when upset he would exlcaim, "Are you okay?!?" since we usually ask him that after he falls down. After a few months he would also add, "You're fine" before getting up and going on his way. He essentially took the question and encouraging comments we used and spoke them out loud for us because as far as he knows that is what one is supposed to say when that happens.

Our son has made quite a bit of progress with his speech based on where he was at the time of his diagnosis two years ago. Some of the phrases he now uses are: "need help", "eat food", "I want juice", "go down slide" (meaning he wants to go to the park) "more tickle" "hug" "bye bye car" and "where's mama" (the only time he will call either of us by name). We are beyond thrilled with all of this progress! Like jumping up and down excited! Yet I can't help but worry that the echolalia may cause problems in the future because he may come across as antagonistic if he repeats what someone tells him. I've heard stories about cops stopping an individual with autism and asking questions only to have their questions repeated back. At that point the cops treated the person as hostile and a scuffle ensued. That bothers me. So I wonder, how will his speech continue to develop? What other tactics can we use to help him with his echolalia? Will he continue to make positive strides in spontaneous speech?


  1. Oh, he sounds soooo like my daughter. The "having both sides of the conversation" thing is so her. If she wants something she'll say "Do you want to watch TV? Good idea!" You gotta laugh. Sounds like he's making really good progress! If he is anything like my daughter, the progress may be slow but it will keep going in the right direction.

  2. I have a 12 year old son who had severe echolalia. We finally realized that it was tied to his level of anxiety. The more anxious he was in a situation, the more he'd repeat. Fortunately, we found some nutritional apporaches to address his anxiety, and the echolalia has decreased too! It still surfaces in unfamiliar situations, but he's alot easier to pull out of it. Hope Diego keeps making progress. He sounds like a great kid!