Autism Series #1: Why Does My Child Repeat Things?

Why does my child repeat things? Some people call this Echolalia.

What is Echolalia?

  • Meaningless repetition of another person’s spoken words as a symptom of psychiatric disorder
  • Repetition of speech by a child learning to talk

This is not the same as an autistic child repeating words or phrases. Why?

There are two predominant reasons.

  1. The memory of an autistic programmed person does not work in exactly the same way as the memory of someone who is not programmed with autistic processing pathways.

Most of us have a specific organization to our memories. They are stored as “if…then.” For example, “If I want a drink, then I ask for a glass of water.

An autistic person’s memory is more like a pool of words that don’t always go together. For example, “drink, cup, water, juice, milk, glass, faucet, sandwich, eat, plate” may all be in the same pool.

They float around in that pool, constantly moving and switching places. So one moment they may be arranged like they are above, and the next they may be arranged as, “sandwich, eat, cup, drink, milk, plate, water, juice, glass, chicken.”

Imagine bobbing for apples. This is kind of how an autistic person’s memory works. You may aim for one apple, but it slips away and another suddenly bobs up in its place.

So, the autistic person repeats the key words in what you have just said in an effort to match them with the words bobbing around in memory. Eventually they match up, but it requires repetition of the words and time to process.

  1. Another reason is that is allows the autistic person to experiment with words. Words are not easy for most people with autistic processing.

For those who are not programmed with autistic process, words come easily. We quickly tag experiences, feelings, smells, sights, sounds with words and store them in the verbal part of the brain.

For someone with autistic programming, that tagging process is not as easy. Why? Because of the way memory is organized. You just read about that. So, sometimes repeating allows the autistic person to play with words that they are familiar with.

Sometimes it’s fun to do something that was once hard to master, but is now easier due to practice. We like to play catch after we have managed the mechanics of it. Sometimes someone who has trouble with words likes to play with them just because it is fun to do something well that was hard to master.

For more information on how this works, I recommend The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, available through Please designate your “Amazon Smile” charity as Therapeutic Riding of Tuscaloosa.