Say again? Echolalia and Autism

It’s not uncommon for young children to repeat themselves, or what they hear around them, as this can be important for developing language skills. However, when this behavior continues past early childhood, it may actually be a phenomenon known as echolalia. Echolalia is often associated with Autism.

What is echolalia?

In latin, echo means ‘to repeat’, and lalia means ‘speech’. Thus, echolalia is repetitive speech. In particular, it can be non-voluntary, which means it doesn’t always happen on purpose. It can refer to repetition of words, phrases, and sounds.

Are there different types of echolalia?

There are a couple of variations of echolalia, which we’ve explained in the graphic below:

An infographic summarising the 6 different types of echolalia, including immediate, delayed, unmitigated, mitigated, communicative, and uncommunicative.

How does echolalia affect Autistic people?

Approximately 75% or more of Autistic people express echolalia at some point. As language skills improve, echolalia may become more mitigated (altered from the original sound) rather than unmitigated (exact repetition). Autistic children may use echolalia more than typical speech patterns.

Research suggests that echolalia provides a mechanism for people with social communication disorders such as Autism to express language before they have developed the skills or understanding to use typical speech.

Autistic people may repeat complex words, sentences, or phrases they have learned in context to communicate without understanding the explicit meaning behind those words. For example, they may say, “Time to get in bed now” when they’re ready to sleep because they have heard that phrase used at bedtime before. They might say something like “Don’t cry” when they’re upset, if they’ve heard others say that when they themselves or someone they know has been sad.

This TikTok posted by Precious Hill shows an example of echolalia in her Autistic daughter, Mikko.

We hope this post helped you learn more about echolalia and how it affects people with Autism. If you know someone you think might benefit from learning more about echolalia and how it affects Autistic people, please share this post with them! We’d love for our resources to reach those who need them.


Functional echolalia in Autism speech

Echolalia overview

Olivia Holland
Medical Writer