Echolalia – Something that Autistic people do!

Echolalia is something that you will probably come across when dealing with children and adults on the autism spectrum. As an independent 26 year old on the spectrum I most definitely still experience Echolalia.

Echolalia is originally two Greek words; ekho and lalia. The word ekho translates into the English language as Echo, and lalia into speech. When you put the English translations together you get a pretty good definition of the word Echolalia.

When somebody on the spectrum hears something in passing conversation, in a film, T.V shows or even music, there is a chance that they may repeat it. A lot of the time they may have no understanding of the context of what they are saying; this could mean that they are repeating things for comforting purposes.

For example, I often repeat quotes that make me laugh to help re-create the moment of when I first heard it as it always makes me laugh or smile.You may also notice in your child that they will watch the same silly ‘Stampy Longnose’ Minecraft video or have the same 2 seconds of a CD on a permanent repeat. This is done for the exact same reason as above, it’s comforting. Do you know how I know this? Because I still watch the same Monty Python, Saturday Night Live sketches or any other humorous content over and over again.Let me give you of an example of when I’ve been affected by Echolalia.

This story begins when I was very small maybe 3; my mother had a VHS of Lee Evans Live at the West End. On this VHS Lee Evans talked about the situation when you’re in a restaurant in England and you see/hear someone drop a lot of plates and they all go SMASH, somebody may utter ******.

Now, keep this Lee Evans’ story in mind, it will all make sense eventually.The year was 2004 and I was 15, my mother had told me that week that a lady was coming into my lessons to observe me as I was going through the autism diagnosis process. So that being said, I was in school, sat in the far right hand side corner of the science classroom, the lady who observed me sat in the far left corner and the teacher, being the teacher, was of course in front of the class to teach us.In classroom I was being my normal self, drifting in and out of daydream.

As the teacher was talking, he pulled out a drawer full of scissors, but unfortunately the draw decided to come out all of the way, fell and made a loud crashing noise: SMASH. Now remember the Lee Evans joke? You can only imagine what I shouted across the classroom! On this occasion I didn’t get into trouble, although the teacher I called a ****** usually shouted at me a lot. The lady who was observing me explained Echolalia to my teacher. My incredible head of year was very understanding and it was never spoke of again.

Echolalia on that occasion didn’t do me any favours; Echolalia can be a positive thing. You may ask how this can be.

A lot of the time people with autism struggle to socialise and communicate, in these situations we may produce Echolalia to help us get through these trying times. Echolalia can present itself in two forms,

which are:

1. Pre-Intentional Communication: The person will say or do something with no intention of affecting those around them.

This is where autistic people will use it for comfort and it ranges from anything from a word or just a noise.

2. Intentional communication: The person will say or do something to send a message to someone. This can be seen mostly from people who are protesting, don’t agree with something or are making a request. This will become a lot clearer to the person on the spectrum as they realise how their actions can affect other people.

The exciting thing about Echolalia is that it’s positive and no matter what stage of your life you are in, the transition from pre-intentional to intentional communication is a huge step.One of the ways I use Echolalia positively is using movie/TV quotes in the right context.

For example, if I’ve been told to not let anyone past me I immediately turn in to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and shout, “YOU SHALL NOT PAAAAAAAASS!”

If you’re like me, with Asperger Syndrome, you may understand why we have to communicate but feel unable to. For me Echolalia was a way of finding solutions to communicate by using ideas from other people. Using certain quotes allowed me to develop a sense of humour, which then expanded and now I can communicate effectively (well, most of the time).

When I realised it was possible to make people laugh, it became an obsession and I was convinced that humour was how you make friends. To some degree I was right as I do make friends and humour is something that I always use.This allowed me to become more pro-active in developing social and communication skills, as I saw the benefits of being social. Making people laugh is my favourite thing in the world. Echolalia is how it started – copying famous phrases from TV or films and then obsessively trying to copy their voices.

Now that I have seen the benefits of socialising and communicating, I have built up my powers. It is much like someone who gains fitness by going to the gym. To get better and stronger at socialising and communication, I have thrown myself into social situations. By being employed, doing amateur theatre plays, biting the bullet and by just getting through it – because it only gets easier.

Tom Bowes

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6 thoughts on “Echolalia – Something that Autistic people do!

  1. Thank u so much for sharing that. My son is 4 and half and has autisim spectrum disorder. He recently started speeking and does echolalia at times and I find him so amazing and I hope one day he will cope better. Awesome blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny my daughter does a lot of Echolalia most days. Her typical style is to say whatever she says out loud like “Mr Bean has dropped his fish in the loo” and follow up immediately with the same exactly sentence but its whispered. Myself I am an annoying man. My sister’s visit a Psychic (Don’t Ask) and she has an Irish name and when they say it i always follow it by shouting it loudly in an Irish accent. When we all went on the Severn valley railway as you approach stations the conductor wanders up and down the carriages saying for example “We are now approaching Arley” in what i can only describe as an old fashioned accent. I spent the next day wandering around the house saying “We are now approaching Arley” until my missus basically told me shut up lol. If there is someone around called Alfie I will always sing “What’s it all about Alfie”. These are not done to annoy but they are a compulsion that cannot really be stopped without an extreme amount of concentration, but to be fair i just let them fly.


  3. Hi Tom,

    I saw your awesome talk on this at The Autism Show in Birmingham recently. I wondered if you would send your powerpoint to me to share with my SEN colleagues?
    I would be very grateful.



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