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Rethinking echolalia: repetition as interactional resource in the communication of a child with autism*


Echolalia is a pervasive phenomenon in verbal children with autism, traditionally conceived of as an automatic behavior with no communicative function. However, recently it has been shown that echoes may serve interactional goals. This article, which presents a case study of a six-year-old child with autism, examines how social interaction organizes autism echolalia and how repetitive speech responds to discernible interactional trajectories. Using linguistic, discourse, and acoustic analyses, we demonstrate that the child is able to mobilize echolalia to mark different stances, through the segmental and suprasegmental modulation of echoes. We offer an interpretive framework that deepens our understanding of the complex interactions that children with autism can engage in by using echoes, and discuss the implications of this perspective for current views of atypical language development in autism.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Laura Sterponi, University of California, Berkeley – Graduate School of Education, 5643 Tolman Hall, Berkeley, California 94720, United States. e-mail:
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Funding for the research described in this article was provided by the University of California Berkeley Committee on Research (CPHS Protocol 2006–2–11, Principal Investigator: Laura Sterponi) and by the Hellman Family Faculty Fund. We are grateful to the Paxter family for their participation and engagement in this study. We also wish to thank Alessandra Fasulo, Kenton de Kirby, and the journal's review and editorial team for their insightful comments and critical advice. A personal note of gratitude to Jonathan Shankey.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
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