Deakin University

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‘Let me tell you, I see echolalia as being a part of my son’s identity’: Exploring echolalia as an expression of neurodiversity from a parental perspective

journal contribution
posted on 2023-10-16, 03:13 authored by EG Cohn, MJ Harrison, KR McVilly
Echolalia has been described as the repetition of words, phrases, songs or other more elaborate dialogues uttered by another person, which may be immediate or delayed (International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.). Some classify echolalia as a communication impairment reflective of delay, while others consider it a restricted, repetitive pattern of behaviours, without meaningful communicative function. Little attention is given to the experiences of non-clinicians, such as parents or teachers who may hold valuable insights to further our understanding of this phenomenon. This study forms part of a larger programme of inquiry which interviewed parents (N = 133) about their experiences of their sons’ and daughters’ echolalia. Using hermeneutic phenomenological analysis in an abductive framework, we present a perspective of echolalia that has largely remained silent in literature: echolalia as an expression of neurodiversity. Participants push back against the status quo of intervention, reclaiming echolalia as being a part of their child’s identity. Participants want their children to not only enjoy their echolalia but to fully embrace it as being a part of their individual identity. We propose alternatives to a purely clinical perspective of echolalia; alternatives that may place the neurodiversity-affirmative perspectives of our participants in a co-existing tension with clinicians. Lay abstract: Echolalia is a commonly found speech and language condition in autistic children. Children with echolalia repeat words and phrases they previously hear in place of proving a non-repetitive response. In research and when visiting speech and language services, one of the common goals is to modify these repetitions so that these children may, more socially, engage with their surrounding environment. In our research, we identified that not all parents want their children’s echolalia to be modified. Some parents want their child to be able to enjoy echolalia and others don’t want anyone to intervene because they see it as something that makes their child unique and being unique is something to be celebrated. We believe that there might be a way for speech and language services who want to modify echolalia and the parents in our study who do not want their child’s echolalia to be modified, to be able to exist side-by-side.