A lot of children who have autism will start their speech journey with something called echolalia. Echolalia is when a child repeats what you have just said back to you. It is done for many purposes, but the main reason a child does this is because they have a hard time with fluent or creative spoken language.

Some good news about echolalia is it can be a sign your child is trying to speak and they may grow out of it. In some cases however, the child never fully overcomes echolalia. There are some classic examples of this, as some children began with echolalic speech which slowly filters out as they speak more fluently, but rears its head again when they are under stress.

Some parents are told their child would always use echolalia and never speak but through ABA they can form fluent sentences and communicate effectively.

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy often works with a child’s speech. After-all, speech is used for everyday functioning. The way they go about this is by modeling the correct response. As a child can already repeat what has been said this is quite easy to implement. For example;

Therapist: Do you want a cookie?
Child: Want a cookie? (Whilst holding out their hand indicating yes)
Therapist: Yes, please.
Child: Yes, please.
Therapists: (gives the child the cookie)

Basically, this teaches the child that when they say yes to this question, they receive a cookie.

You may notice once this is put in place your child uses an echoic response first and THEN the correct response. For e.g. “Want a cookie? Yes, please.” This is wonderful news as the child is now using the echolalia to process the question before they answer it. Much the same way we do.

Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t quite sure what somebody said and you repeated it in your head to understand it? This is the function for an echolalic response in this circumstance. It’s quite normal really, and remarkably intelligent problem solving for a child who’s having trouble processing the outside world.

ABA can help in so many ways! Echolalia is just one of the many struggles a child with autism faces. ABA looks at the behavior your child uses and normalizes it, trying to both understand it and change it so they still receive the benefits they are looking for.