(Photo credit to www.friendshipcircle.org)
Does your child repeat what you or others around them say? Does he/she verbally replay their favorite TV show or movie on a regular basis? Does your child choose to use the voice of someone else to communicate their own thoughts? If yes, your child may be using echolalia to communicate.
In the past echolalia has been thought of as a behavioral tendency rather than a method of communication. Although it may not seem like it, a child using echolalia is likely trying to communicate his/her own thoughts, but cannot seem to find the words within him/herself to communicate effectively, so he/she chooses to use someone else’s, such as a TV show character, sibling, classmate or even you.
Echolalia is a challenging communication method to understand and be patient with, because it can be challenging to keep your cool after you have heard the same request, “do you want to build a snowman?” using the same inflection and squinty eyes of the original speaker Anna, from Frozen, for the 50th time. In reality, your child may be seeking permission to go outside and play in the winter weather. The hard part with echolalia is it is so easy to say, “Why didn’t you just ask me that?” The answer is, your child did, just not using the most preferred or appropriate language.
The next step after tolerance and understanding is helping your child to redevelop their communication strategies and “word bank” to include only their own, genuine words. Start small, only expect 1 to 2 word requests and don’t worry about grammatical content. For example, an acceptable request to go and play outside may be “play outside.” That request has no “please” or fancy wording, but it only consists of your child’s genuine words that they chose to put together to get a message to you… victory!
Grammatical tweaking and manners can be added into this process as you continue to work with your child to expand his/her communication skills. With time, your child may be able to communicate using a string of words correctly and appropriately, such as, “Mom, may I please go play outside?” Keep in mind that every child is different, and his/her progress in this process should not be compared to that of others – allow your child to learn to express him/herself authentically at his/her own pace. Lastly, remember to be his/her biggest cheerleader every step of the way!