What is the Connection Between Apraxia, Echolalia and Autism?

If you’re the parent of a child who has or may have autism, you may not have heard the terms apraxia and echolalia before, but you might be familiar with the symptoms. 

What is Apraxia?

Someone with Apraxia of Speech (AOS) has trouble saying what they want to say.

AOS affects the brain pathways involved in planning the sequence of movements involved in speaking.

When someone has apraxia, their issues with speech aren’t caused by weakness or other issues with the jaw, tongue or mouth – someone with AOS can physically speak and they know what they want to say, but they just have trouble getting it out because the brain can not properly plan and sequence the required speech sound movements.

AOS can vary from mild to severe – someone may just struggle with stuttering but someone else may have extreme difficulty with speaking.

Someone with Apraxia might have difficulty pronouncing words consistently or finding the right word for what they want to say, or may make errors in tone, inflection, stress or rhythm – those components of speech that help to convey the meaning (i.e. sarcastic, questioning, etc.) of what we’re trying to say.

What is Echolalia?

Echolalia occurs when someone, typically a young child, repeats words or phrases they’ve heard from people or from TV or other media.

It can either happen immediately or they may be repeating something they heard earlier.

Echolalia is common in children under three years of age, and this repetition is important in the process of learning to talk.

However, in children over three years of age, Echolalia may be a sign of autism.

Children with autism often use echolalia because they learn language differently.

Instead of learning single words and then sentences, autistic children often learn longer sentences first (and repeat them), and then actually understand what the words mean later.

They just might need a little extra time to process language and the world around them.

Echolalia can serve a purpose when used by autistic children.

Although they might not understand what the words mean, they know they’re related to something they’ve experienced and can use Echolalia to communicate.

For example, a child who wants you to read to them might say “Do you want a bedtime story?,” because they associate that phrase with the last time the parent read a book to them.

They may also use Echolalia to self-talk themselves through a difficult situation or as a form of stimming.

How Are Apraxia, Echolalia and Autism Connected?

Apraxia, echolalia, and autism are highly comorbid – if your child is diagnosed with one, they should be evaluated for the others, because they frequently occur together.

It’s estimated that up to 75% of people with autism have exhibited echolalia and that it may be used as a coping mechanism when someone can’t communicate the exact words they want to say.

Studies conducted by the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center found information to support the high comorbidity of autism and apraxia and the hypothesis that apraxia may be the reason many children diagnosed with autism do not develop speech.

Want to Learn More?

Whether you’re new to the autism community or you’ve been looking for answers for years, the RDI® Online Learning Community for Parents can give you the resources you need.

A membership gives you access to our forums, where you can get information, connection, and support from other autism parents and adults on the spectrum.

You’ll also get access to exclusive research, webinars, articles and more from our Certified RDI® Professionals.

Find out more about the RDI® Online Learning Community today.

Click to enlarge infographic.

autism, echolalia, and apraxia infographic


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