Does your child repeat everything you say?

Echolalia is common among children with autism and other developmental delays. We often teach children to talk by having them imitate what we say, verbal imitation. A common problem found in this method is that children don’t discriminate when to imitate and when not to imitate. Here are a few tips on how to prevent this problem and how to get rid of inappropriate imitation.

  • When teaching a child to imitate what you say, use the instruction, “Say + word.” “Say” becomes the instruction for imitate. This will help the child know when to imitate. If they don’t hear, “Say” then they know not to imitate.

  • Gesture to the person whose turn it is to speak. This indicates who is the speaker and who is the listener. You may also use picture cards that represent speaker and listener.

  • Make sure you are only providing positive reinforcement for appropriate responses. For example, if an adult says to a child, “Do you want a cookie” and the child repeats, “Do you want a cookie.” That is an inappropriate response and the adult should not provide the child with a cookie, which is a positive reinforcer. The adult should then repeat the question and provide a model of the correct response, “Say, yes.” The child should get the cookie after he/she gives the correct response.