Headstart for Life

Echolalia: Parroting Words without Communicating

Hello! We love seeing you back here at HeadStart for Life’s Beyond Therapy blog! Today we are going to talk about Echolalia. What’s that? Please read on!

Imitation plays a strong part in our growth and development. We acquire our skills by engaging, observing, asking and trying. Remember how you learned your favourite song by repeating and imitating the song several times? How you managed to cook a meal by watching and copying the steps from videos? That’s the same route for children. They learn through listening and observing various models such as adults, peers, songs, videos, etc. However, it becomes concerning if there’s too much of imitating without interacting and responding. There are some children who may speak in long, complete sentences but may not be appropriate to the on-going communicative event. There are those who may memorize utterances from shows/songs but finds it difficult to respond to questions during simple conversations. This is when one may present “echolalic behaviours” or “parroting of words”.

A lot has been said on why some children may exhibit this. For one, it may be a child’s way of hinting “I heard you but I don’t know the answer so I will just repeat”. Repeating is their attempt to respond but may not know the word/s to say. Another reason commonly mentioned is that parroting words may be their “thinking time” wherein they try to process the information heard and while retrieving the answer, they imitate parts of the heard information. Sometimes, too much of verbal imitation may also be seen because the child doesn’t have sufficient opportunities to use words in a more interactive manner. For example, they may learn rote phrases from watching educational videos but does not have enough contact time with a play partner to use more functional, engaging verbalizations. Furthermore, since they are not used to interacting with others, they may dominate the conversation by repeating unnecessary/unrelated phrases instead of providing an accurate response.


As mentioned, during the early stages of learning, children may echo frequently. This is their way of rehearsing, remembering and storing what they learn. It is not rare to hear children younger than 3 years to repeat what we tell/teach them. These years are the crucial maturation period where they absorb a lot of information through the various senses: sight, smell, taste, hear and touch. As a child matures, their way of learning and storing differs. Thus, loud and frequent echoing may become infrequent. They wouldn’t need a very long time to comprehend your question and would be faster in retrieving the words to respond.

A child may get over with the echoing stage by him/herself. But if it persists especially for older children, some form of help may be necessary. Here are some activities worth trying:

  • Listen and play with me

You may still let your child listen and watch musical shows but set a limit. Nothing compares to hearing actual voices and learning through interaction. Early on they will learn how to look at you, listen to your voice and keep the interaction going by imitating you and creating positive reactions such as clapping, laughing, giggling, etc.child-1823719_1920

  • Learn simple turn-taking games

    Engaging your child with early turn-taking tasks will help him/her be accustomed to the roles of being a listener and a speaker. As a listener, one should pay close attention to the one speaking and determine cues on when is the right time to respond and be a speaker. You may try some of these games:

    1. Complete the Song

Adult: Twinkle, twinkle little…. (pause and show cues such as looking intently at the child, tapping the shoulder or pointing to the child to signal his/her turn)

Child: star

Adult: How I wonder what you…

Child: are



            2. Sharing is caring

Play games involving turn-taking, for example, take turns in blowing bubbles, shooting balls, pouring water in a container, etc.

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          3. Read along

If your child can read, you may initiate a book reading activity. Start by reading some parts then pause and let your child continue. Remind your child that as you read, he/she should remain quiet and just listen.

*Using the Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s book “Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?”

Adult: Red Fox, Red Fox, what do you see? (pause and look at the child)

Child: I see a flying squirrel gliding by me.

  • Auditory Closure activities

Let your child complete familiar phrases and sentences. You may support this task with drawings or pictures.


socks and ____ (shoes)

night and ____ (day)

spoon and ____ (fork)

boy and _____ (girl)


Monkeys love eating _____. (bananas)

I brush my teeth with toothpaste and _____. (toothbrush)

Mommy is driving the _____. (car)

The boy is reading a ______. (book)

  • Get started with wh-question forms and tones

Some kids may need to be acquainted with the idea of what a question is. You may use visuals to acquaint them with the wh-forms. For example, a picture of a person relates to who, house for where, clock for when, etc. Model the appropriate way of asking by using a high-pitched voice especially towards the end of the word or sentence (e.g. where?).

  • Start with simple question forms

Train your child on how to listen carefully and respond. Provide easy questions so that the child doesn’t feel being too tested which may deviate from your main goal of training him how to listen, respond and not simply repeat. Examples include,

Questions regarding desired objects (to motivate them to respond)

“What toy do you like?”

“What food do you like?”

“Do you like cookie or candy?”

  • Boost your child’s vocabulary

Sometimes, they may not have enough vocabulary to respond, thus the habit of repeating your question. Build on your child’s knowledge of various words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, locations, quantities, etc.) by playing toys, engaging in games, singing, reading books, etc.

The activities we’ve shared are just some examples. Hope it may help in some way. You may use it as a guide to create your own fun games. When you do create one, we’d love to learn from you!

We’re looking forward to your feedback, stories and perhaps recommendations too! See you back here at HeadStart!


"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Anna

Anna finds special significance in continuous learning through reading articles, observing adult-child interactions and communicating with professionals, children and parents.

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