Echolalia is a common feature of autism that can, in some cases, be gradually replaced with functional language. One of the first steps in treating the disorder is attempting to understand and work with it in order to help a child or adult with autism to develop confidence. Gradually teaching proper replacements for echoed words and ignoring responses that are echolalia can help treat the disorder and improve the person’s ability to communicate.
Studies have shown that echolalia, though it can be frustrating and difficult for others to relate to, is an important step in the child’s development of language skills. Much of the repetition is communicative and serves a number of functions for the child, including reinforcing the correct use of give and take in a conversation, answering questions and expressing needs. For this reason, one of the best ways to treat the condition is to attempt to comprehend and work with the echolalia that a child uses. This can help children develop confidence in their ability to communicate, which in turn can help them learn to replace this form of language with proper language.
One of the main ways to treat this condition is to work with people with autism in order to teach them the proper responses. Many times, the repetition occurs because the person does not know how to respond. Parents and professionals can teach the simple response, “I don’t know,” in order to help the person learn how to communicate properly. In those with severe autism this simple sounding fix may take a great deal of time to sink in and become a part of the normal speech pattern.
In older children or adults who use echolalia, there are some techniques that can be used to wean the person of their dependence on repetitive speech. In one of these approaches, which is known as script fading, the patient is given a list of scripted responses to use to common questions. Over time, the script is taken away and the therapist’s side of the conversation is altered slightly, to attempt to elicit proper responses when neither interaction is scripted. Script fading, and other therapies that replace this feature with proper interactions, rely a great deal on positive reinforcement when proper speech is used and no reinforcement when echolalia is used.