Mastering Echolalia: Improve Your Repetitive Language Skills

When my son was 18 months old he was diagnosed with leukemia. I did not know if he would live to see his second birthday, so I posted a picture he had painted on the hospital wall to remind me that I needed to make the most of our time together instead of getting caught up in worries that would prevent me from enjoying the time we had. There is a happy ending. He is a healthy busy 7 year old and I finally caught up on my sleep for the most part. I relied heavily on repetitive statements to stay focused and grounded during that time.

We’d like to encourage you to refine your own repetitive language too. Repetitive speech can soothe and help process information effectively and it is an inherent and defining part of being autistic.  (Click here to learn more about the benefits of echoic speech).

So how do you make the most of your repetitive speech? Here are a few tips.

Make It Your Own

Repetitive words (or mantras) work best when you:

  • personalize them
  • use them deliberately (with purpose) and
  • say them regularly.

So don’t just pick any sound or word because someone else uses it. Choose a mantra that feels “right” to you on an intuitive level. When you say your mantra it should give you a feeling of comfort and peace and should address a particular goal or focus you have in mind because you want to create a shift to a more peaceful serene mental state.

Words or phrases can be in any language and long as you know the significance so don’t just stick to English if French, Sanskrit, Swahili or even binary catches your interest.

Write it Down

These rings have messages to remind the wearer. Photo Source: Karl Wichmann

To remind yourself to use a particular word or phrase that fits your situation it helps to write it down and post where you can see it or carry it with you. This can be as simple as handwritten note tucked away in a wallet or pocket or posted on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror. Alternatively, a picture frame, a piece of jewelry like a locket or a ring work well.

This can either have the words written on it or the object itself can symbolize the meaning. Useful objects that can be worn or carried include small rocks or other findings from nature, gems, cards, buttons, jewelry, a piece of cloth or photo. Any thing that has meaning for you can act as a reminder for the message you choose.

Picture It

This painting was created to symbolize letting go for a child during divorce. The branches are splitting apart but the trunk remains intact.

Make use of your natural visual strengths. Choose a picture or other image to serve as a reminder instead of words. Pictures can create an emotional response that motivates and inspires beyond words.

Practice When You Are Feeling Calm

It might take some practice before you remember to use a mantra in a tough situation. Especially if you were discouraged from echoing as a child. So practice it several times (like a dress rehearsal) while you are in a calm and relaxed state. Stating your mantra while exercising or just moving your body around can also help your message sink in. This will help your brain become prepared to use this tool under stressful circumstances when you really need the message to help ground you.


Don’t give up because you forget the first few times. Just repeat your chosen words or sounds several times as soon as you remember and with practice you will start to remember more often until it becomes second nature for the times when you really need it.

Getting Started

Here are a few suggestions to explore.

Got a Problem or Just Want to Grow as a Person? Carefully choose your  repetitive word or phrase to match the skills, qualities or thoughts you’d like to increase in your life:

“Take a Deep Breath!”

We hold our breath and tense our muscles when we feel anxious or upset. This in turn increases our sense of anxiety, creating a vicious cycle of physical tension, lack of oxygen and unsettled nerves. many of us don’t even realize that our bodies are frequently in a state of heightened tension until someone else points it out. If you are one of those people who finds yourself chewing your nails or sitting on the edge of your seat more than you catch yourself unwinding, or others often comment on your apparent tension, you will benefit from a simple reminder to just “breathe”.

“You Are What You Eat”

Carry or post a picture of a healthy meal that you enjoy and every time you are tempted to eat something you know is not good for you remind yourself “you are what you eat”.

Carry a picture of healthy portion sizes if you have trouble limiting the amount of food you eat or if you tend to under eat because your body does not let you know it is running out of fuel.

“What is Good For Me is Good For All”

Do you feel overly guilty when you can’t accommodate other people’s requests? Do you have a hard time setting healthy boundaries for yourself because you let others talk you into activities or commitments that you really don’t have time or energy for? Then “What is Good For Me is Good For All” is the perfect reminder that you need to take care of yourself.

This is not about indulging in selfish whims at the expense of others but rather about giving yourself permission to say “no” when saying “yes” would cause you to spread yourself too thin or violate your boundaries. If you are happy, healthy, balanced and well-cared for, you are better able to support and serve others. And if keep your boundaries intact you remain resilient and grounded.

“Where There is a Will There is a Way”

For those of us who give up too soon, it helps to have a reminder that if we are determined there are ways around or above our obstacles if we just keep trying. This mantra helps you re-write a very important thinking error: That you lack the ability to solve your problems. While you may lack the confidence to solve your problems, chances are you actually do have the capability to fix most of those little bugs in your life.

When you remind yourself “Where There is a Will There is a Way” you can begin to look at your problems differently, seek help and/or learn new information that will allow you to address what once seemed an impossible issue.

Think about how easy it is to Google an answer to virtually any question today. This mantra links you to your mind’s “Google Capability”. If you don’t have the solution to a problem, that is your cue to seek out a trusted friend or adviser for suggestions or learn more about your problem before giving up.

“Where there is a will there is a way” was a popular English proverb credited to George Herbert in 1641.

“It’s O.K. to Let Go”

On the other end of the “effort spectrum” are those of us who are die-hard’s – the perfectionists who have to get it just right before we quit. We just can’t seem to let go of a bad relationship, toxic friendship or unhealthy job, even when the benefits of continuing on our current path are far outweighed by the disadvantages of doing so.

This phrase is also good to establish healthy boundaries in your mind during those situations when you feel responsible for something that isn’t really your problem or when other people try to manipulate you into feeling guilty for something they have done. In theses circumstances you can modify your mantra to “This is not my problem”.

If you have a hard time letting go even when you know on some unconscious level that you should, it is time to rewire your brain with some new and healthy thinking. Give yourself permission to be human. “It is O.K. to Make Mistakes”. “It is O.K. to Let Things Go”.

After all, you wouldn’t be reading this article if I waited until it was perfect.

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