Why Does My Child Repeat What I Ask ThemWhy does this child repeat the question ask of them? “Do you want juice?” “No, I said do you want something to drink. You say yes or no.” “Yes or no.”
Mom to son: “Do you want juice?”
Son: “Do you want juice?”
Mom: “No, I said do you want something to drink. You say yes or no.”
Son: “Yes or no.”
Why does this child repeat the question ask of them?
Echolalia is defined as the tendency to repeat words spoken by another person. It is sometimes described as imitative or repetitive speech.
Echolalia can be immediate (repeating what they just heard) or delayed (repeating something they heard previously).
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Imitative Speech Can Be Good And Bad
Imitative speech is a natural part of the language-learning process. Most children are able to express independent thoughts as they age instead of just continuing to repeat what they hear. This is the difference between imitative speech and functional speech.
Here are a few examples:
An example of imitative speech would be when a child repeats back a question (“what do you want?”). An example of functional speech would be when you ask a child a question (“what do you want?”) and the child answers the question (“cookie”, “cookie please” or “I want a cookie.”).
An example during play would be if a parent and child are playing with a ball and the parent says “ball.”
Imitative speech would be if the parent says “ball” and the child repeats the word “ball”.
Functional speech would be if the child spontaneously says the word “ball” during play, without the parent using the word first.
Another example of imitative speech could be repeating songs or lines from a television show or movie during conversation or at inappropriate times.
Another example of functional speech would be a child making a spontaneous request, “drink”, “drink please” or “I want a drink.” The length of the request depends on the child’s language ability.
Not all speech is functional speech.
The goal for all children is to be able to adequately express their thoughts, feelings and ideas as well as to communicate their basic wants and needs.
If a child continues to only repeat what other people say, they are not communicating independent thoughts or their wants and needs.
Children should progress through all stages of speech and language development at or around the appropriate ages.
Phases of Speech Development
Cooing: usually occurs between 1-4 months and involves producing vowel-like sounds, such as “ oooo
” and “ ahhhh.”
Babbling : babbling is referred to as a prelinguistic skill, a skill that happens prior to the development of speech and language. There are three types of babbling
Marginal Babbling- usually happens between 4-6 months of age and consists of putting together consonant-vowel combinations (“baaaa”) or vowel-consonant combinations (“ummmm”).
Canonical Babbling- usually occurs between 6-10 months of age and consists of using a variety of sounds and sound combinations. Canonical babbling usually occurs in two phases, reduplicated babbling and nonreduplicated or variegated babbling.
Reduplicated Babbling- repeating the same syllable over and over, such as “mamamama” or “babababa.”
Nonreduplicated or Variegated Babbling-combining different sounds and syllables, such as “badaga”
Usually occurs between 9-12 months of age and beyond.
Vocalizations will begin to resemble adult-like speech including tone and inflection patterns although “real” words may not yet be observed.
Children will begin to replace jargon speech with real words, phrases and sentences between 1-2 years of age.
Children with Autism or other developmental delays might use jargon speech for an extended period of time. However, with typical development, most jargon speech should begin to disappear when words and phrases begin to emerge.
Single Words- ex. ball, drink, eat
Phrases- beginning to combine words, ex. “want drink”, “juice please”
Sentences- using longer and more grammatically correct utterances, ex. “I want a drink.”, “I need more juice, please.”
Conversational Speech- includes appropriate turn-taking and “back and forth” participation
It is important to note that as children progress through these phases of speech development, they should be using spontaneous speech and not just imitative speech.
For example, if a child is imitating single words but not using single words spontaneously, then he/she has not yet progressed to this phase. The same would be true for all of the phases.
For example, if a child is spontaneously producing single words but only imitating two-word phrases, then the child would still be considered in the “single words” phase and has not yet progressed to the “phrases” phase until he/she begins to spontaneously produce two-three word phrases.
Although imitative speech is a natural part of the language-learning process, it is important for children to move past this phase and begin to independently express their thoughts, feelings and ideas as well as to communicate their basic wants and needs.
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If you are concerned that your child might be demonstrating imitative/repetitive speech at an inappropriate age, you can discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and/or contact Therapy 4 Kids at therapy4kids.net or 501-514-3722 with any questions that you may have or to schedule an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist.