Echolalia is a fancy word for the repetition of spoken words. For typical toddlers, it’s a transition period in language development. For autistic people who don’t have functional language skills, it’s a means of communication.
When I was first learning about autism, I didn’t think I did any echolalia. But then it hit me: I did, and have been my whole life. When I was younger, I used to repeat animal noises sometimes, or I would say “I’m bored” repeatedly. I got yelled at for doing both. My step-dad yelled at me for saying “moo” as he thought I was using it call people fat, when in reality I just like the way the sound felt as I said it. Other relatives would yell at me for saying “I’m bored” and tell me to figure out something to do, when the figuring out something to do was what I needed help with. I was attempting to ask for that help, but they just saw me as annoying them. It was a hell of a realization when I figured out that what I had been doing was echolalia.
My best friend and I speak in echolalia a lot when together in person, which I think confuses many people. A lot of it is either memes or in-jokes between us, yet we have full conversations we understand. Or we make cat noises such as “nyah”, “mao”, or “mew”. Sometimes we will use other animal noises in our echolalia.
It does make me happy that memes are an accepted thing now, so Autistics like myself can use them as a type of echolalia and it doesn’t come off as too weird. We can also quote our favorite books, movies, and TV shows to find the words we need to help get our point across. It’s a form of scripting, but is also echolalia since we are repeating others’ words.
While sometimes it may seem like meaningless repetition, I assure you that Autistics using echolalia are actually trying to communicate with you. What they are saying has meaning even if you don’t quite understand what it is yet. So please don’t yell at any Autistic person in your life for echolalia; instead, try to find out what they’re trying to express.