Tag Archives: Echolalia

My Autistic Experience: Repetitive and Steretoyped Speech and Language

I’d almost forget it, but this month, I’d actually intended to share my autistic experience for #Write31Days. I failed at the challenge, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to share my experiences. Today, I’ll talk about speech and language.

I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome under DSM-IV. Asperger’s is basically autism without an intellectual disability or speech delay. The communication impairments criterion in autistic disorder does not appear in the criteria for Asperger’s. That doesn’t mean Asperger’s people don’t have communication impairments. I could’ve easily met the communication impairment criterion in autistic disorder if I’d been more articulate back when I was diagnosed in 2007. You see, I was asked to name examples of speech and language stereotypies I displayed and could come up with only one, which was dismissed. In truth though, my speech and language can be quite stereotyped.

The most noticeable form of steretoypical language for me is my use of particular words or strings of words in an apparently irrelevant context and/or in a repetitive way. For example, in around 2005, I’d say “Hey folks!” to practically everyone. Later, I also used to say “banana spider” at every opportunity. In time, between my husband and me, it got the meaning to communicate boredom or disinterest. As such, it’s become a kind of script.

My repetitive use of language can be helpful in my interactions with my fellow clients at day activities. My fellow clients are all severely intellectually, often multiply disabled. None of them can speak and many have severely limited comprehension of speech, but they respond with joy to my repetitive use of their names or nicknames in a particular tone of voice.

Speaking of tone of voice, I do not seem to have a monotonous voice, but I do know that my tone of voice can be steretoyped too. For example, I speak to each fellow client at day activities in a different tone when echoing their names.

I rarely if ever experience true echolalalia, in the sense that I’d repeat another person’s entire sentence. I do often find myself repeating one or two words though. I also regularly repeat my own words. Lastly, I do repeat sounds people make.

I have an interesting preference for complicated words over simple ones. Refer back to “banana spider” here. Also, the first word I ever spoke, at ten months of age, wasn’t “Mama” or suchlike, but “aircraft industry”.

Another interesting experience happened at my last psychological evaluation last spring. Not only did I name “Banana spider” as one of the first animals in a naming task, but on the IQ test, one of the questions was who was Mahatma Gandhi. Years back, I’d had the same question on an IQ test and accidentally said that he “fighted” for India’s independence. Now I knew I had to say he “fought”, but again, “fighted” slipped off my tongue. It isn’t that I didn’t know the past tense of “fight” in Dutch, but that the situation elicited this particular brain fart.

I’m sure most people use language in some steretypical ways. After all, the example of steretoypcal language I came up with in 2007, was my frequent use of expletives. That’s not uncommon, which may be why the assessor dismissed it. My use of repetitive language also doesn’t impair me that much and, like I said, it can be an asset. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Spectrum Sunday

Communication in Autistic Children #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day three of the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Today, I want to focus on one of the core areas of impairment in autism: communication.

Children and adults with autism have problems in non-verbal and/or verbal communication. Some individuals with autism do not speak at all or speech development is delayed. Others on the surface have great speech with an extraordinary vocabulary, but have problems with the social use of language (pragmatics).

Some common problems with communication in autistic individuals include:


  • Rigid and repetitive language. People with autism may say things that have no meaning in the conversation they’re having. They may repeat the same words or phrases over and over again, or they may repeat what another person has said (echolalia). Immediate echolalia occurs when a person repeats what has just been said, for example, answering a question with the same question. Delayed echolalia means that a person repeats what they’ve heard earlier. For example, they may ask “Do you want something to drink?” whenever they want a drink. Some people with autism use what they’ve heard on television in regular conversation.

  • Talking in a high-pitched, sing-song voice or in a monotonous tone of voice.

  • Being able to talk about certain topics only. Some people with autism can hold lengthy monologues on a topic of interest even though they cannot carry on a two-way conversation on the same topic or cannot talk at all about other topics.

  • >Uneven speech and language development. Some children will not speak at all then start speaking in full sentences. Others will develop a large vocabulary about a specific topic of interest, as I said above. Some children can read before the age of five but do not comprehend what they’ve read (a condition known as hyperlexia). Some people with autism cannot speak but can type.

  • Poor non-verbal communication. Many peopole with autism avoid eye contact, though some can learn to stare at another person’s eyes to fake eye contact. People with autism also often won’t use gestures to give meaning to their speech, such as pointing to objects.

In order to help an autistic child reach their potential in communicative abilities, parents and carers will need to pay attention to a child’s strengths and needs. For example, some children will not use any speech but will be able to learn sign language or learn to communicate using a speech app.

When a child repeats other people’s words, usually at first it has no meaning. However, echolalia can be a pathway to communicaiton, because a child will often ultimately start using repeated word in communicative scripts that do have meaning.

There are many stratgies parents can use to enhance an autistic child’s communication development. For example:


  • Take on the role of a helper and teacher. When a child is still particularly non-communicative, it may be tempting to do things for them without asking whether they need help. It is better to ask whether the child needs help and give them an opportunity to try for themselves first.

  • Encourage the child to do things with others. Again, it is tempting to let the child be completely in their own world, because many parents view this as independence. However, autistic children (and all children!) need interaction to improve their communication. Try to join the child in whatever activity they’re involved in. When the child shows anger, this is a sign that they are interacting and it is better than no interaction at all, so persevere.

  • Slow down and give the child a chance to communicate. Many children with autism are slow to process information, so it helps to slow down. It is tempting to rush, because, after all, as a parent you can’t attend to the child 24/7, but slowing down will ultimately encourage the child to communicate.

  • Give the child a reason to communicate. If you give in to a child’s every demand immediately, they will not learn to interact. It is important to create situations in which the child is encouraged to communicate more than just their immediate needs and wants.


As the child matures and develops more communicative skills, it is important to move from the helper/teacher role on to a role of a partner and to even follow the child’s lead. That way, a child will learn increasing reciprocity in communication.