Echolalia occurs when a child repeats what he/she hears either immediately after hearing the utterance (immediate echolalia) or hours to days after hearing the utterance (delayed echolalia). Echolalia can at times be self-stimulatory. The child may repeat lines from or his favorite movie or even repeat a conversation he/she heard. For example, during dinner time the child may say, “To infinity and beyond!” The child may do this to self-calm or for self-stimulation as the utterance is not related to the situational context; However, echolalia can also be communicative or functional in nature, in which the child repeats something he/she has heard in the past for a specific communicative purpose such as requesting or commenting. For example, when a child sees his/her parent take out a puzzle, he/she may say, “Do you want to do a puzzle?”
When completing a task the child may say “good job.” Children who present with echolalia of this type because they have frequently heard these utterances in these specific situational contexts and therefore associate the entire utterance with the situation. This occurs because children with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically learn language as a unit unit as opposed to learning language with single words. For example, the child may not be able to independently use the word “do” in a novel sentence, however, he/she is able to use the entire sentence “Do you want to do a puzzle?” The child may not understand exactly what the sentence means in its entirety but he/she does understand that it relates to the context and therefore, says it to communicate.