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Therapy Source Career Center - June 2019

At What Age Should Echolalia Cease?

Kathleen Fahey, Ph.D,CCC-SLP

April 10, 2006



At what age should echolalia no longer be used or observed in a child's speech?


Developmental stages are often used to characterize early language gains made by infants and toddlers. One taxonomy is often used to describe such stages according to descriptive categories with associated age ranges. The examiner (1-6 months), the experimenter (7-12 months), the explorer (12-24 months), and the exhibitor (3-5 years) captures the nature of normal language development (Owens, 2005).

During the examiner stage, infants begin communication through responses to their environment through crying and pleasure sounds, babbling, altering vocal pitch and volume, imitation and experimentation of sounds. They become quite social with caregivers and use their motor and cognitive attainments to focus, look at people and objects, and reach and hold objects. Imitation of some movements and sounds begins to develop at 5 or 6 months.

At about 8 or 9 months of age, within the experimenter stage, infant social skills increase and they comprehend some words they hear regularly. The also begin to develop variety in communication strategies through the use of imitation of gestures, variegated babbling, jargon and echolalia. Thus, the period between 8 and 12 months is called "the echolalic stage." During this stage, infants produce short utterances spoken by others exactly. They use the same words, but also imitate the prosodic patterns. As you might imagine, this display of linguistic knowledge is very appealing to parents and other caregivers, thus the youngster using echolalia often receives much attention. And, since echolalia occurs within the experimenter stage, most youngsters try their newly found skills on all who might listen. As children enter the one word stage and beyond, echolalia decreases and is replaced by the child's own creative utterances.

The use of echolalia beyond the experimenter stage was thought to be noncommunicative behavior arising from comprehension problems. However, research within the past two decades has revealed much about the nature and functions of echolalia, as well as intervention strategies. Echolalic characteristics occur along a continuum of exactness, degree of comprehension, and communicative intent. Thus, it is necessary to understand the verbal behavior in the context of the child's cognitive, socioemotional, and communicative environment. Prizant and Rydell (1984, 1993) and Prizant (1987) discuss the functional uses of delayed and immediate echolalia and provide suggestions for intervention.

Dr. Kathleen Fahey has 28 years experience as a speech-language pathologist. She is a professor in the Audiology and Speech-Language Sciences program at the University of Northern Colorado. Her areas of expertise include normal and disordered language and phonology.

Kathleen Fahey, Ph.D,CCC-SLP

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