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Some children with autism, although it can also occur together with other language disorders, have an echolalic language based on the repetitions of what they hear. Often this language becomes not very functional since they end up repeating without any apparent order some words, phrases or sounds of what catches their attention, either because of its loudness, the frequent use of these words or “fillers” that adults sometimes use in our language, or simply because in at some point they understood that they must repeat the structure that was taught in this way.
Since in these cases we end up realizing how little useful this type of use of language can be for our children or students, and due to the interest that this topic arouses, I decided to leave you some guidelines for intervening with children with scholastic language: how to intervene, and how to promote practical and functional language.
Practical tips to work with children who have echolalia are:
1- Use a style consistent with the language, that is, do not speak to the child in another language other than the proper one used in most contexts. It may sound like a joke, but I often come across eco-friendly children who repeat phrases in English or other languages. This in many occasions is not because they are taught in English, but the tablets, computer games, television series and songs, although they seem useful above all, in this case they are not (remove the sound, or look for another game that is not in another language).
2- Use gestures and simple facial expressions. If you accompany the word with natural gestures or simple signs, the child will soon be able to evoke or remember the word you are trying to get him to say without the need for too much help. For example, if you make the sign to eat, in another possible sentence later on, the child will be able to remember the word better if they need to say it; The gesture will suffice (and you can gradually withdraw it little by little).
3- Be specific and direct. The most correct thing is to speak with simple sentences in the first person (as if the child were speaking) and not more than one word that the child can say at that moment. For example, if the child already knows and uses two-element structures like “I want a car”, use similar structures very slightly increasing complexity like "I want a blue car." Before this phrase, give it to him when he repeats it. This is how we teach how to use the structures of our language correctly.
4- Break down the tasks into simpler parts to explain them and give it a reaction time. Sometimes children with echolalia tend to repeat everything; if we use long sentences they will repeat only the last part that we have said. So use short sentences to explain longer things. Say things like "I take the toothpaste", "I make the paste on the brush", "I brush my teeth" and do not use structures such as "take the toothpaste, put it on the brush and wash your teeth" since it is very safe will repeat "brush your teeth" and this is not functional or coherent.
5- If you are thinking of teach him to ask questions, stand up, and think about it. What need do we have for you to ask questions? Very often the child will use these questions to ask. If you say do you want water? Every time you think he wants it, the child will most likely repeat "do you want water?" to ask for it because he has understood that it should be asked that way. First use more time in teach him to ask what is your motivation or need. There will be time to teach how to ask. Still, if you ask him any questions and remember this advice, give him a fast answer so that he can take the most correct model. For example, say "no" by shaking your head so that he can answer "no" to the question if you think it is for sure what he would like to answer you.
6- Employ a visual agenda system to help children with ASD anticipate activities and events, especially unexpected changes in routines. And to improve their autonomy, sequencing in steps the different routines of daily life (bathing, dressing, eating, sleeping, etc.). All these strategies, in addition to bring peace of mind to the child By making their environment a more predictable world, they can also be useful to us to verbalize with the help of supports, the different activities ("Now brush your teeth").
Otherwise, use the common sense which is often just as useful as a thousand practices, videos and books.
You can read more articles similar to 6 Guidelines for intervening with children with scholastic language, in the On-site Learning category.