Does echolalia always indicate Autism, even when functional and age appropriate speech is present?
The short answer to your question is no. Echolalia is not only associated with Autism, but also with several other conditions, including congenital blindness, intellectual disability, developmental delay, language delay, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia and others.
Autism is diagnosed on the basis of a cluster of symptoms, including social and communicative difficulties and stereotypical and repetitive behaviour and interests. It is never diagnosed on just one single symptom. Echolalia may be part of the communication difficulties children with Autism have. But not every child with Autism has echolalia.
Indeed, echolalia is a natural part of language development in typically developing children, who imitate words and phrases they hear in order to practice their language skills. This kind of imitation continues until about 3 years of age, although even typically developing children differ from each other in the age at which this milestone is achieved.
Dr Elfriede Ihsen.