Chapter 3. Echolalia and language development in children with autism

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Echolalia, the immediate or delayed repetition of the speech of another, is associated with autism. Echolalia is usually described as a non-functional self-stimulatory or stereotypical behaviour, despite research and theory suggesting echolalia has several functions for people with autism and may also be important in language development. Reduction or elimination of echolalia is often cited as a therapeutic goal and is generally considered to be a positive intervention outcome. In this chapter, the relationship between echolalia and imitation in typical and disordered language development is discussed. The relationship between developing receptive language competence (Reynell Developmental Language Scales) and the amount of echolalia (language sample) in speech is examined in a group (n=26) of children with Autistic Disorder compared to a group of children (n=23) of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). The receptive language and the amount of echolalia in speech were assessed in both groups annually for three years. An inverse association between the amount of echolalia in speech and receptive language ability in children with autism was noted. Like imitation in typical development, echolalia may be exact or modified in some way (mitigated). These modifications can be classified into several types. The amount and type of mitigated echolalia in speech and its relationship to the receptive language ability of children with autism is described. The findings of this study are consistent with the view that echolalia plays an important role in the language development of children with autism. Implications for assessment and management of echolalia in children with autism are discussed.


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