Let’s CHAT about Hyperlexia: Echolalia

Jun 3, 2021 | Blog

If you quickly google “echolalia,” the first definition you might see is “the meaningless, or unsolicited, repetition of another person’s spoken words…” In fact, many experts such as Dr. Barry Prizant, Marge Blanc, and Dr. Lillian Stiegler state exactly the opposite: echolalia can absolutely be meaningful, and – with skilled therapy – can be shaped into creating new sentences! 

Two types of echolalia are often discussed; immediate echolalia, referring to an immediate repetition of what one has just heard, or delayed echolalia, referring to “scripting” or repeating something you have heard at a previous time. Of course, for our HxLs, they are more likely to script what they have read. It is common that HxLs begin communicating using delayed echolalia, especially when they are gestalt language processers. Click here to learn more about gestalt language processing and how we can use it as a tool for HxLs! 

In 1984, Dr. Barry Prizant found that the use of immediate and delayed echolalia can serve a number of different purposes. He identified 14 “functional” categories of delayed echolalia. These 14 categories are listed in the table below, and are separated into 2 groups: Interactive or Non-Interactive. Interactive delayed echolalia refers to echolalia used based on the presence of another person and whether the child showed intention to communicate with them using body posture or gaze. Non-interactive delayed echolalia refers to echolalia that is not directed toward another person. Dr. Prizant further analyzed delayed echolalia by identifying if the child comprehended what they said or if the echolalic unit was relevant to the situation or conversation. This additional analysis is especially important to consider for our HxLs, as they are typically able to decode – and therefore repeat (or ‘echo,’ ‘script,’ ‘imitate’) – language much higher than their comprehension abilities! 

*Adapted from Prizant, B., & Rydell, P.J. (1984). Analysis of functions of delayed echolalis in autistic children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 46, 241-249 

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Dr. Prizant also recognized that delayed echolalia can serve several different purposes: communicative, cognitive, social interaction, or non-communicative. Communicative delayed echolalia includes echolalia with clear communicative intent like requesting, protesting, labeling (interactive), calling, affirming, directive and providing information. Cognitive delayed echolalia refers to echoing utterances to support thinking, planning, or cognitive thoughts such as self-directive, rehearsal, and labeling (non-interactive). Social interaction echolalia refers to the use of delayed echolalia to completing the expected behavior of talking (turn-taking) or completing a learned phrase (verbal completion) without a clear meaning or intent, other than simply participating. Finally, non-communicative delayed echolalia refers to non-focused or situation association echolalia which may only serve the purpose of self-comfort or regulation, which we now may call “stimming.” 

In addition to Dr. Prizant’s findings, we have also experienced people using echolalia for humor, as a request to learn more, in attempts to make a social connection, and in order to self-soothe if a person is feeling dysregulated.