What is Echolalia?

Echolalia is a symptom or a phenomenon of repeating the words, phrases and sentences of what others have said. It is often associated with children, who are diagnosed with autism. However, there are many other diseases and disorders, which have echolalia as its symptom. The very word 'echolalia' clearly suggests what the term categorically suggests of in a broader sense. 'Echo' in Greek means 'to repeat' and 'lalia' means 'speech'. Hence, echolalia is an expression that indicates that a person repeats the speech of another person.

What is Echolalia?

Definition of Echolalia

The automatic, effortless and unsolicited repetition of the sounds, words, phrases and sentences made by another person, is known as echolalia. This repetition of sounds can be an almost immediate reaction or it can also be a delayed one.

An Overview of Echolalia

Children with echolalia repeat words and sentences that they have heard from story books, songs or from movies and TV shows. It can be from a recent or immediate episode or even from a previous activity. Depending on the time or immediacy of the response, the phenomenon can be categorized as immediate or delayed. The delayed response can delay even for years. Although the child technically "speaks" a lot of words, he actually does not "use" the words, their meaning and does not understand what he is speaking.

In most cases, Echolalia is associated with autism and other disorders. However, in some cases, it is just a part of normal language development that a child might experience by the time he/she reaches 18 months of age and reaches the peak when the child is 30 months old. Then, gradually, the condition declines and disappears as the child reaches 3 years and is a toddler. However, for children with autism the symptom does not subside and about 85% of them are found to have echolalia. The positive side of this condition is that as the child grows up, they would be able to learn how to use language.

Symptoms of Echolalia

Echolalia itself is a sign that is indicative that the person has some other disorders that has led to this repetition of sounds. It is associated with a number of disorders. Still, it has a number of subcategories such as –

  • Mitigated Echolalia: The original stimulus is altered and then repeated. The patient changes the syntax of the sentence and the pronouns.
  • Ambient Echolalia: Repetition of the environmental stimuli and not the exact speech.

Apart from these two specific types, the other signs and symptoms of this condition are –

  • Repeating a question instead of answering it
  • Repeating a question and then answering it
  • Depression
  • Frustration during conversation
  • Irritability, especially when asked something
  • Muteness.

Causes of Echolalia

Echolalia is a phenomenon, an effect of certain disorders. Hence, the root cause of Echolalia is associated with the other disorders. Amongst them, autism needs separate mention. Many patients experience this when they are anxious, nervous or distressed and some experience it always. Many, who cannot express themselves during such a time, even turn to be mute.

Associated Disorders of Echolalia

  • Autism and Echolalia:

The most common association of echolalia is with autism. Children, who are autistic, are often seen to repeat what they hear, instead of answering or replying back. Research studies have also shown that the reason behind this repetition for the autistic children is to stay in a conversation. Since they still haven't been able to develop the language process of their own and cannot produce their spontaneous speech to express their thoughts and feeling, they repeat what they hear.

  • Aphasia and Echolalia:

This is another disorder in which the people suffer from echolalia. Aphasia is a disorder in which, due to brain damage, the patient is unable to understand speech in its spoken or written form. In that case, without knowing what he/she is speaking, the patient just repeats what is heard. The speech is vague and the language function gradually deteriorates.

  • Dementia and its Association with Echolalia:

Caused by a brain injury or a brain disease, dementia is a persistent and chronic disorder of the mental process. Patients suffering from dementia are often seen to have impaired reasoning, memory disorder and echolalia. Since they lose their comprehensive capacity, they fail to produce own speech and hence, only repeat what they hear.

  • Epilepsy and Echolalia:

When, the brain experiences certain neurological disorders due to loss of consciousness and sensory disturbances that occur suddenly, the patient experiences seizures. Echolalia is often a phenomenon that epilepsy patients are found with.

  • Schizophrenia and its Association with Echolalia:

Schizophrenia is a debilitating illness that is chronic and severe in nature. An individual suffering from this illness, experiences psychotic symptoms in which he/she is unable to differentiate between reality and the unreal and is out of touch with reality. Along with delusion, hallucination and other likely symptoms, echolalia too is a symptom of schizophrenia. In most cases, the patients are seen to suffer from the delayed echolalia in which the patient repeats whatever he/she hears, after hours, days or even weeks.

  • Catatonia Schizophrenia and Echolalia:

This is another type of schizophrenia in which the patient, in a disturbed mental state, moves and behaves abnormally. The type is characterized by a no movement phase and a euphoric phase. The patients suffering from this illness and those in the euphoric phase are often found to have echolalia and repeat whatever is heard.

  • Echolalia and Tourette's Syndrome:

The very illness called Tourette's Syndrome is a very prominent example of echolalia. In this condition the patient repeats whatever he or she listens to.

Apart from these, corticobasal degeneration, Pick's disease, pervasive developmental disorder and progressive supranuclear palsy are some other disorders that have echolalia as an associated symptom.

Diagnosis of Echolalia

Echolalia is a natural phenomenon that every single child will experience during their language development phase. As they learn language, the symptom would subside. However, if the symptom does not subside with time, it will indicate that there is a problem or disorder rooted back as a cause of echolalia. Patients diagnosed with autism, aphasia, dementia, epilepsy and all the other associated disorders, must undergo regular screening by the doctors to check if he or she has echolalia and if they do, whether it subsides with treatment or retains despite treatment.

Prognosis of Echolalia

Echolalia is usually not a permanent condition. Most people have this condition only during the childhood and as they develop language skills, the symptom subsides. However, those, who suffer from echolalia for the entire life, it is quite frustrating for them. Many become depressed for not being able to communicate with others and many refrain themselves from speaking at all.

Prevention of Echolalia

As echolalia is a natural process of learning, it should not be prevented under natural circumstances rather it cannot be prevented. However, if it is a symptom of some other disorders, learning process and language skill development should be encouraged. New words and phrases can boost language development process and language skills will help in the gradual disappearance of echolalia.

Treating Echolalia

There are quite a number of ways that can help in the treatment process of echolalia. They are –

  • Medications to Treat Echolalia:

Medication is not actually a prominent or direct method of treatment for echolalia. However, the associated side effects of echolalia such as depression and anxiety can be avoided with medication. As the patient will stay calm with these antidepressant medicines, it will help in the overall betterment of the condition.

  • Home Care Treatment for Echolalia:

The patients suffering from echolalia, must undergo a good communicative session at all times and this happens well when you teach more and more new words and help the patient to learn those words. As they learn the new words, they would be able to reply and reciprocate answers and gradually stop repeating what they hear.

  • Therapies for Treating Echolalia:

Although there is text based and online training programmes available for patients with echolalia, the additional speech therapies are always of great help. This will help the patients to speak up what they are thinking.

Patients with Echolalia often become irritate with themselves for their condition. Hence, as a parent or a caregiver, it is very important that you keep your calm and patience while dealing with them.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: September 13, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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