Echolalia is a common trait among autistics, and is simply the act of repeating words or phrases that other people have said. Very similar to this is palilalia, which is repeating your own words or phrases rather than those of others. For the purposes of this post, because echolalia and palilalia are almost exactly the same thing (both repeating words of phrases in a manner that might seem meaningless from an outside perspective) I'll refer to them both as echolalia, but of course please do be aware that the two different forms exist.

When I first discovered what echolalia is a couple of years ago it rang some major bells as it's something that I vividly remember doing as a child, and to an extent I still do it now. I remember when I was young (around primary school age although I'm not sure exactly) my mum's friend who used to cut our hair was at our house with her 2 kids, the oldest of which is the same age as me. I can't remember what I was talking to the 2 brothers about, but the oldest one noticed that I was repeating myself under my breath and commented on it. I think he had probably noticed it a few times before as well because from what I remember it's something that I used to do quite a bit. I'm not sure why but I took the fact that he'd commented on it as meaning it was something I shouldn't be doing, so I started repeating myself entirely in my head instead. Looking back, I'm not sure if there had been some sort of negative reaction to it before that. It's just making me wonder because a) why would I instantly take his comment as a negative thing when there was really nothing negative about it, and b) if I was going to repeat myself why would I only do it under my breath instead of out loud?

Anyhow, as well as repeating things I've said, I also repeat things from other people - also mainly in my head although I have been known to do it verbally when I was younger. What I've noticed about this though, is that it doesn't seem to happen in normal, everyday conversation. It's only when someone has said something funny I find myself involuntarily repeating it in my head over and over and over. I've found myself in awkward positions a couple of times because of it. For example, I had an English teacher in year 10 who was hilarious, and because of my echolalic tendency I would often replay the joke over and over in my head and I ended up still laughing at the same thing after everyone else had stopped. I did this with comedy shows on TV as well. I was a big fan of shows like Harry Enfield & Chums, and The Fast Show. But obviously laughing at the same joke for ages in your own home is a lot more comfortable than in public.

That leads me on to some of the reasons that people might repeat things that they or other people have said. In my case the reason depends on where the repeated phrase comes from. If it's from somebody else it's usually just because it's funny and therefore enjoyable. If it's from myself then it's for a more analytical reason. I often find myself repeating words and phrases to check if I could have worded it better, or to break a word down into pieces to help me work out the meaning/origin of it. Just as a quick demonstration, I like dinosaurs as much as the next person which lead me to thinking about the origins of some of their names. I broke down the word Triceratops into Tri-Cera-Tops. I won't bore you with how I reached my conclusion, but I worked out correctly that it translates literally to "three horns on its face". These are the main reasons for echolalia, although it could also just be a pleasurable sound that is used as a verbal/auditory stim.

As always, I hope this post has been informative and maybe even given a bit of a light bulb moment like I had when I first heard of echolalia. If you found this post helpful and interesting don't forget to subscribe with the button at the top of the page, follow me on Twitter @DepictDave and retweet this post to spread the word!


  1. My son also does this especially with jokes, I dont know how many times Ive had to pretend laugh after hearing the same joke 30 times in one day!! Also repeats our words/sayings.
    Once again an amazing and informative post!! Xx


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