Echolalia: The facts beyond “parrot talk”, scripting, and echoing

By: Amber Fox, MS, CCC-SLP

What is echolalia?

Echolalia is the literal and rote repetition of the speech of others. In young or typically developing children, echolalia presents as imitation and can be part of typical language development from ages 18 months to 30 month of age. Echolalia and scripted language are often associated with children on the autism spectrum; however, may be present in the language of children who do not have this diagnosis. As language skills in children with autism improve, echolalia decreases, much like it does with typically developing children. We may observe echolalia immediately (repeated phrases modeled by the adult) or delayed (minutes or even days later). Echolalia can be a fascinating language difference, which can hold meaning and communicative purpose.

Is all echolalia this same?

No! Echolalia can present in many different ways and can communicate different functions and/or meanings for the the same individual.


Immediate echolalia:
This type of echolalia immediately follows another’s speech. Immediate echolalia can be interactive or non-interactive, serving a range of functions (see below).
Delayed echolalia:
This type of echolalia occurs at a later time and may be produced without communicative intent. Delayed echolalia will often be described as ‘scripting’. This may present as words or statements provided by the child’s communicative partners or scripted from favorite TV show.
Mitigated echolalia:
Mitigated echolalia echolalia occurs when the child makes a change in wording or intonation made by the original speaker. As the child’s receptive (comprehension) language skills improve, an increase in mitigated echolalia may be observed.

Why does my child use echolalia or scripting?

A child may use echolalia to communicate a variety of messages.
Communicative Functions of Echolalia and examples:
Turn taking:
-Adult: “How was your weekend?”
-Child: “Weekend.”

Verbal Completion: (Completes a familiar routine initiated by an adult)
-Adult: “What do you do first?”
-Child: “Hang up coat.” (echoed from adults completion of routine on previous occasions)

Declaration: (Labels using an echo)
-Adult: What kind of ice cream do you have?
-Child: “Ice cream.”

“Yes” answer
-Adult: “Do you want a cookie?”
-Child: “ Cookie”

-Adult: “There’s a car in the toy garage here.”
-Child: “Car in garage.” (used with gesture toward car).

Protest (delayed echolalia remark or prohibit other’s action)
-Adult: “Let’s do our speech work now.”
-Child: “Don’t you dare.” (echoing remark parent made earlier)

Directive (Delayed echolalia used to direct other’s actions)
-Child: Time to clean up now (echoed from teacher’s previous remark; used to tell fellow student to pick up blocks).

-Calling (Delayed echolalia used to get attention)
-Child: All eye up here (echoed from teacher’s use of same phrase; used to get peer to pay attention to client during play interaction).

Provide Information (delayed echolalia used to give new information not in the immediate environment)
-Child: “Dog’s loose again (echoed from parents’ use of same remark; used to inform teacher that something anxiety producing has happened.

Tips for working with children who use echolalia:
  • Look at the type and communicative function the echolalia serving.
  • If the child is finding enjoyment through scripting favorite, teach places and times when scripting is more socially appropriate.
  • If the child is using scripting to calm and provide self reassurance, work to find additional calming and coping tools. Occupational Therapy can be a wonderful resource!
  • State requests in the the child’s “voice”; say “I want a cookie.” Instead of “Do you want a cookie?”
  • Make small modifications when modeling the child’s language to expand and change communicative messages. If the child repetitively requests, “Open window,” expand to, “Open my window.” or “Open the bedroom window.”
  • Embrace the communication milestones associated with echolalia; with greater understanding of this language phenomenon, wonderful communication and connections can be established!
  • Resources:
    Paul, R (2001) Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence Assessment & Intervention. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc.