ParentingEcholalia: Is it normal for children to repeat words and sentences that they hear?

October 15, 2019
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Although Echolalia may sound like a serious condition, it merely refers to the meaningless echoing of another person’s speech. It is probably more common than you think as most young children exhibit signs of it. Echolalia is usually not serious and most of the times, it can be corrected at a young age.

Repetitive speech is a part of language development and will happen in young toddlers who are trying to communicate. However, children should start mixing in their own utterances and words by the age of two and repetitive speech should be minimal by the age of 3.

Some kids may experience this when they are distressed or anxious. Beyond that age, the presence of echolalia might be due to autism or developmental delays and might need to be addressed.

Read on to find out the different types of echolalia, the symptoms and the various treatments available.

Types of Echolalia

Echolalia features two main categories – functional (interactive) and non-interactive echolalia. Differentiating between the two may be difficult as it requires a lot of understanding of the child’s life, including the entertainment they consume.

Interactive echolalia

This form of Echolalia is used to communicate with others, and a child with functional or interactive Echolalia might use repeated sounds or phrases in the verbal exchange. Speech may be used to mimic verbal routines that the kids have heard before.

For example, a kid might say “good job” while completing a task as he is mimicking what he is used to hearing. This form of Echolalia may also be used for listeners to garner new information – for example, a kid might sing a fast-food jingle as an indication of what he wants for lunch.

Non-interactive echolalia

On the other hand, non-interactive echolalia usually serves as a personal stimulation or labelling.

There are four types of non-interactive Echolalia:

– Non-focused speech (usually made without context)

– Situationally associated

– Rehearsal

– Self-direction

Echolalia that is situationally associated is usually triggered by a situation or activity, like singing a song related to a particular tv show when the kid sees a related toy. Rehearsal is a form of practice, and the child may utter a phrase a few times to themselves before saying it clearly. Self-direction may be used to guide themselves through things, like listing the steps as they are brushing their teeth.

Common symptoms of echolalia

The main symptom of echolalia is the repetition of phrases and noises – which may happen immediately or much later – with some speakers repeating hours or even days later. Other signs may include being constantly frustrated during conversations, depression, and muteness.

A child may also be unusually irritable when questions are asked.

Read also: 5 Smart Strategies to Help Kids Remember What They Read

Diagnosing echolalia

If you worry that your child’s echolalia may be persisting, bringing your child to a doctor may be able to help. A professional can diagnose echolalia by talking to the child and assessing the severity. They will usually recommend speech therapy or similar forms of help.

However, if your child’s echolalia is not severe and is merely part of development, here are some ways you can help your child.

Help your child by listening

Your child is trying to communicate through echolalia so it might take some trial and error before you understand what they are trying to convey. Keen observation of your child’s habits is required, especially when they are playing by themselves.

Take note of what they are saying to themselves as they touch certain objects or move through life. Also take note of their mental state as they say things, as these phrases could also be used to express their frustration, anger etc. It is important to just take the time to listen to your child and give them the time to express their thoughts. It may be frustrating especially if you know exactly what they want to say but showing patience is vital.

After you’ve figured out what your child is trying to say, you can then move on to interpreting the sentence to provide a “model” of what to say.

You can say the sentence in the way your child tried to say it, with the proper meaning and structure, so he/she can repeat it back at you. Sometimes that may involve saying these sentences from the child’s perspective as well.

Looking into enrichment classes in Singapore like speech and drama

Another thing that may help ease the symptoms of echolalia in children would be enrichment programmes such as speech and drama classes. There are many schools in Singapore that provide speech and drama programmes that could be beneficial for kids. These classes allow kids to be more comfortable around others while learning appropriate ways to deal with their emotions. Kids with echolalia often feel frustrated with their inability to find words to communicate – speech and drama classes will teach them alternative ways of expression.

At MindChamps, the ACA Kids Programme is more than just a regular speech and drama class as it focuses on helping kids express themselves through various mediums.

For example, a variety of characters are used to help kids explore their emotions and ultimately turn them into art. By learning how to express themselves, children will gain the confidence to speak up and share their ideas with their peers.

Reading programmes for kids to expand their vocabulary

Reading programmes for kids are also useful in providing a stronger language foundation to empower children to express themselves. Apart from nurturing a love for reading and working on areas such as comprehension and phonics, programmes such as MindChamps Reading provides children with opportunities to communicate their ideas. This allows teachers to identify possible problem areas in terms of their language and speech abilities, and work with parents to address them accordingly.

Read also: 5 Must-Ask Questions for Choosing Reading Programmes for Nursery Kids in Singapore

Although echolalia may seem worrying (and the plethora of online blogs spreading misinformation does not help) it is a part of your child’s vocal development and is not too worrying at a young age. The most important thing is to be patient and keep communicating with your child.

Written by Steffi Wee