We were learning how to implement DIR/Floortime strategies with a youngster who has autism. We were green therapists, and didn’t know much. Our supervisor, Sima Gerber, was coaching us through play with the child. Who would think you would need to be coached to play, but we did…
Following the child’s lead, we began to discover how much echolalia drove this child’s language. We were led to the work of Barry Prizant, who with a number of collaborators, had worked to dispel the notion that echolalia was a communicative problem. Moreover, echolalia could be a strategy for growing language in children with autism.
Through our analysis, we started to figure out some of the functions of our client’s echolalia. Sometimes it was a veiled request or appeared to be a comment. Delayed echolalia of lines from television programs, or things that his Mom had said started to seem more functional than we could imagine. To this day, I will hear his voice say “brush your teeth?” when I am brushing at the sink (2 times a day, of course!)
What does this mean for our students who display echolalic behaviors?
Can we model language with the hope that some of it will be used functionally?
I feel as though the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Keep in mind these ideas when using echolalia effectively
Be careful about your praise: I write this with the understanding that we MUST praise our students for verbalizations that show communicative intent. Be careful about the praise you use, and how often you use it. “Good job” can be overused and become part of the child’s vocabulary quickly
Simplify input: In Prizant’s 1983 article, it is recommended to simplify input to children because it helps all children with language impairments to process language. Be mindful of how you simplify- we don’t want to model incorrect forms, just simplified ones.
Keep the auditory loop going: When a child echoes your phrase, give them feedback! I have found that echoing and echo can be helpful. Prizant also take about making an echo relate to what you are doing. If you can glean the intent, make sure you let the child know. That way, it’s not an echo for no reason, it is showing intent.
While we have come a long way from working to prevent echolalia behaviors (at least I hope we have)- we need to be mindful of how we use it. These tips, and more can be used, and will be discussed in the future.