Tag Archives: echolalia

Echolalia and Scripting: Straddling the Border of Functional Language

The Scientist and I went out to dinner last Friday night. It was the day after I’d taped my radio interview and I was feeling wiped out, so we decided to treat ourselves.

During the course of dinner, the waitress made many visits to our table, asking the questions that waitresses do.

How are you tonight?

Would you like me to bring any ketchup or hot sauce?

Is there anything else I can get you?

Would you like more water?

Do you want to see the dessert menu?

To every one of those questions (and perhaps others I don’t remember) I replied, “I’m good.”

“I’m good” made sense the first time and is an okay answer for the others, assuming I didn’t actually want more water or a dessert or need anything else. Except that I did want more water. I was just too tired to override the default script my brain had settled on and by the time I realized what had happened, she had disappeared into the kitchen.

Not a big deal. Someone else came around and filled our water glasses a short time later. If they hadn’t, I could have just told the waitress I’d changed mind and would like some water.  Continue reading Echolalia and Scripting: Straddling the Border of Functional Language

Let Me Repeat Myself

In the comments on the Why Talking is Hard post, a few people mentioned that they have a tendency to repeat themselves when speaking and, oh boy, can I relate to that. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my tendency to say things over and over to someone, because it’s a rather embarrassing habit to have as an adult.

The underlying causes are probably a bit different for each of us, but I’ve come up with a few ideas about why autistic people are often prone to repetitive speech:

Poor inhibition

This feels like the most obvious culprit. Once we get started on a favorite subject, look out. We just can’t seem to stop, even when it’s obvious that the other person is getting bored or uncomfortable. Part of infodumping is often going over the same facts or stories repeatedly, as if we aren’t sure the other person is really grasping why this subject is so freakin’ awesome.

Poor inhibition is a component of impaired executive function–a plain old lack of ability to put the brakes on speech. Infodumping or monologuing about a special interest feels closely related to poor inhibition. Repeating the same information within an infodump is likely an extension of the phenomenon that leads to infodumping in the first place.

Basically it’s all one big case of “Help–I’m talking and I can’t stop!”


This is more of a “broken record” kind of repetition. It’s asking someone the same question or making the same statement over and over, even though the other person has already answered or acknowledged it.

I do this a lot to The Scientist, especially in relation to making plans.

“Let’s run tomorrow morning.”

Ten minutes later: “Tomorrow is a running day, right?”

A half hour later: “I want to run in the morning. Oh, wait, I said that already, didn’t I?”

Which doesn’t stop me from wanting to say it another ten times as the evening wears on. With practice I’m learning to silently think the question or statement and then remind myself that it’s already been answered. That works in a mostly-but-not-always kind of way.

This aspect of repetitive speech feels like lack of inhibition combined with compulsive thinking.


This is the one that eventually earns an exasperated “Would you just let it go already?!” response from whoever happens to be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. It’s the kind of repetition that other people quickly tire of because it comes across as irrational and anxiety-laden. A worst-case scenario that just won’t die.

Catastrophizing = poor inhibition + perseveration + anxiety.

Normally, when I repeat myself in a perseverative way, the other person’s response temporarily quiets the need to do it again. But when I’m catastrophizing, the other person’s response is unfulfilling and I continue to say the same thing in different ways, trying to elicit a more reassuring response. Which is impossible, because no response other than “yes, that highly unlikely disaster is sure to happen” would be satisfying.

Short term memory deficit

This one occurred to me while watching the videos that I made for my attempt at video blogging. At times, I simply forget that I’ve already said something or made a point. I forget what I was talking about, have talked about or wanted to talk about and get stuck in a loop of similar thoughts that keep coming out in slightly different ways.

I also noticed that I echolalically repeat myself, reusing phrases or words within a conversation. It’s hard to say why–maybe as touchstones or because they’re caught in my conversation buffer. The funny thing is, it’s rarely the same words or phrases that get repeated from one conversation to the next.

Missing social cues

I think sometimes I repeat myself because I’m not getting the social communication cues to confirm that the other person has heard me. I need very obvious cues, like verbal affirmation. The cues that work for typical people–sustained eye contact, affirmative body language–are usually lost on me.

If I don’t get the expected verbal affirmation, I keep repeating what I said until I’m sure the other person is getting my point. Closely related to this is the difficulty I often have in actually making my point verbally. In way, my repetition is an attempt to edit my spoken words after the fact, which I don’t think is how talking is supposed to work.

Pronoun Reversal and Confusion

One of the obvious early signs of autism in children is pronoun reversal. All toddlers have difficulty with learning the correct usage of I, me and you. However, sometime between two-and-a-half and three years old, most kids gain a firm grasp of personal pronouns.

Specifically, they begin to understand that pronouns are referential rather than absolute words. I can be me but I can also be you, right? It all depends on the situation.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty challenging concept for someone who only recently learned to use a potty, but somehow most kids get it. If a child approaches their preschool years and is still using I, me and you interchangeably, that’s a potential sign of autism. The same is true of a child who continues to use their own name to refer to themselves in the third person.

There are a lot of theories about why autistic kids don’t make the transition to using personal pronouns at the same time or in the same way typical kids do. Some of them are disturbing and stereotypical:

  • autistic people don’t know that other people are actually other people

  • autistic people don’t have an intact sense of self

  • autistic children are “solitary beings” who don’t interact with others

  • autistic children are more egocentric than typical children

  • autistic children don’t pay attention to/listen to/notice/care about other people so they don’t hear how pronouns are used in daily speech

Most of those ideas are rooted in outdated theories about autism. More likely reasons for pronoun reversal in children are:

  • autistic children use echolalia to communicate and say “you” because they are echoing the way other people refer to them

  • autistic children have difficulty with pragmatics (social use of language)  Continue reading Pronoun Reversal and Confusion

Echolalia: That’s What She Said

When my daughter Jess was a toddler, we had a set of board books about the Disney Babies, which were the “baby” versions of Mickey, Minnie and Donald. Jess loved these books. For months, every night we had to read her the Disney Baby books at bedtime. The opening line of one of the books was

“It’s a bright sunny day. The Disney Babies go out to play.”

How do I remember that? Because to this day, I’ll still occasionally walk outside and say, “It’s a bright sunny day” and if The Scientist is around he’ll reply with some variation of “Mickey and Minnie go out to play.”

Yes, he remembers it wrong but that’s not my point. My point is that this is what delayed echolalia looks like in someone who has functional language skills. More than twenty years later, I associate that story with good feelings. Reading it made Jess happy and as she learned to talk, she would “read” the book to me, reciting the lines that she’d memorized.

It’s a bright sunny day has very specific emotional associations for me; It’s shorthand for feeling good about the day ahead.

What is Echolalia?

Echolalia is a fancy word for the repetition of spoken words. For typical toddlers, it’s a transition period in language development. For autistic people who don’t have functional language skills, it’s a means of communication. For me, it feels like a kind of ‘found speech’, similar to the cast-off pieces of pipe and rusted metal that an artist might use to make a sculpture.  Continue reading Echolalia: That’s What She Said

Survey: Special Skills and Fun Stuff

Tuesday!!!!!! I’m so excited. I’ve missed our interactive Tuesdays.

This week’s survey questions are all about special skills and fun things that didn’t quite fit in the other categories. You can answer here in the comments or answer anonymously at Survey Monkey.  Question #10 has 4 parts because Survey Monkey only allows 10 questions on their free surveys and I didn’t want to break this into 2 surveys.

Answer as many as you like. Tell us about your awesomeness. Have fun!

Special Skills and Fun Stuff

  1. What is your favourite thing about being autistic?

  1. Do you have hyperfocus? Do you like it? How long do you focus for, on average?

  1. If you like numbers, what’s your favourite number game?

  1. What is your autistic superpower? (data processing, attention to detail, math, super-concentration, beautiful flapping, lucid dreaming, synasthesia etc)

  1. What cool thing about being autistic do you wish that neurotypical people could experience?

  1. Do you use echolaelia to learn foreign languages?

  1. Apparently, most people feel that their inner self has a particular age unrelated to their chronological age. How old are you inside? Are you older or younger than when you were a child?

  1. If you have a photographic memory, how do you cope with physical locations becoming crowded with all of the history?

  1. Do you have childish or otherwise ‘age inappropriate’ interests or did you at an earlier point in life, such as during your teenage years?

  1. And a multi-parter for number 10 because Survey Monkey only lets me make 10 questions. Do you:

[A] experience synesthesia?

[B] regard yourself as hyperlexic?

[C] think in words?

[D] understand the body language of animals?