What Is Echolalia?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 06, 2023
3 min read

‌You may have heard toddlers mimic noises and words when they hear others speak. This repetition or imitation of sounds, phrases, or words is called echolalia. The term comes from the Greek words “echo” and “lalia,” which mean “to repeat speech”.

‌Echolalia is the repetition or echoing of words or sounds that you hear someone else say. It is an important step for language development in children.

Echolalia can also be a sign of autism or developmental disability in children or neurological problems in adults. These include a stroke or psychiatric disorders like Tourette’s syndrome.

‌Children often learn to speak by repeating words that they hear. Echolalia is commonly seen in toddlers during the first 3 years. Echolalia can be a problem if it continues in children older than 3.

Echolalia in children. Echolalia is a sign of autism, developmental disability, or communication disability in children over the age of 3.

It can happen in children with autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s syndrome. They may need extra time to process the world around them and what people say to them. This causes them to copy or repeat the sounds or words they hear.

Echolalia in adults. You may find yourself repeating the same words you hear in a stressful situation. But you may also have echolalia with neurological or psychiatric problems including: ‌

  • Language disorders like aphasia
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Memory loss or dementia
  • Brain tissue inflammation or encephalitis
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Learning disability
  • Paralysis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stroke
  • Epilepsy

Repeating phrases, words, or noises that you hear others say is the main symptom of echolalia. It can also cause anxiety, irritability, or frustration while talking to someone.

Echolalia can be one of two types.

Immediate echolalia. This is when you repeat something almost right away. It can also happen with a slight delay while talking to someone.

Delayed echolalia. This type involves delayed repetition of words hours or days after hearing them. It is usually seen in people with autism spectrum disorders.

Echolalia is “unmitigated” when you repeat someone’s exact words. It can also be “mitigated” if you change them during repetition.‌

A speech-language pathologist can identify echolalia as they talk to you. These therapists often test children with autism for echolalia through speech lessons.

The test will tell them where your case falls on a range from slight to severe repetition. Your therapist can identify the stage of echolalia and come up with the best treatment plan for you.

The treatment of echolalia depends on the cause of the condition. Professionals who treat it include:‌

  • Speech-language pathologists
  • Speech therapists
  • Neurodevelopmental specialists
  • Psychologists/psychiatrists
  • Special educators

Speech therapy.Speech therapy is an effective way to treat autism-related echolalia. A team of therapists observes you and identifies the reason for your echolalia. They then try to understand why you keep repeating words. They also listen to you and respond in a way you understand.

A speech-language pathologist plays a major role in treating autism-related echolalia. They use behavioral techniques, speech therapy, verbal and visual cues, learning methods, self-monitoring, and positive reinforcement.

Medication.  Your doctor may prescribe medications such as antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ( SSRIs) if your echolalia is caused by stress, anxiety, or a psychiatric disorder. They may also give you a specific medication if your echolalia is triggered by neurological conditions such as stroke or epilepsy.

Check with a speech therapist to improve language and communication skills if you or your child has echolalia. You can also try online self-training programs to learn to talk without repeating words. Reading vocabulary and finding different ways to communicate may help you overcome echolalia over time.