Echolalia is described as the meaningless repeating of others’ phrases. I gotta tell you, though, echolalia has meaning sometimes.
My son and I watch a lot of Pixar movies. My son engages in a lot of echolalia, often never saying a word unless he heard it on a screen first. Most of his speech is reiterating a television show, commercial, movie, or YouTube video. So I get to hear a lot of “There are no red lights in a car chase!” (Big Hero 6) and “These facts an opinions are all so similar!” (Inside Out) and “Oh no, Slushious!” (Home, which is Dreamworks, so forgive me)
Through my own experience with echolalia, I’m here to tell you that, if you think about the context in which these phrases are said (tense situation, happy situation, sad situation) the phrases make sense. When I was little, I often took movie quotes and said the phrase that matched the emotion the movie made me feel at the time with the emotion I was feeling. Of course, I used Land Before Time, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and 101 Dalmations rather than Pixar and Dreamworks movies.
I got in a lot of trouble for it for “not paying attention to what was happening,” though. I didn’t understand why, because the people in the movie felt sad too, so it was relevant to me. It matched. Even now, I have to stop myself from repeating movie lines. I remember the slaps, spankings, and stares full of hatred any time I opened my mouth as a child and stay quiet. I went from the weird, goofy kid to the shy and withdrawn child. I had learned that my mouth was my greatest enemy.
Now that I have my own child, I refuse to allow him the same pain I went through. Not by my hands, or anyone else’s, as long as I can help it. I can recognize happy phrases, upset phrases, sad phrases, hungry phrases, because I have the proper context from the movies we watch.
Occasionally he asks for something himself, without prompting or using echolalia. But mostly he parrots what he hears, and that’s fine. One thing he will never hear from me is “Stop saying that,” followed by name calling.
I am not saying that every person who does echolalia is exactly the same. I’m saying, if someone you know does this, it might be a good starting point in understanding what they’re trying to tell you. Echolalia is used in kids to learn language, which means it’s an important part of communication. That doesn’t stop when your child is six, or twelve, or eighteen, thirty, and so on. How often do people use quotes others say to convey a sentiment they can’t express properly? How often are movie, videogame, Bible, and song lyric quotes put on a pretty background on tattooed on us because it echoes a sentiment we couldn’t express in our own words?
Echolalia is important. Take it all in.