A comparison of echolalia in autistic and mentally retarded individuals

Daniel Arno Lauffer, Fordham University


The latencies of echoing between 10 autistic and 10 mentally retarded subjects showing immediate echolalia were compared using measurements from the computer based Visi-Pitch. Previous research (Shapiro & Lucy, 1978) had determined that a more rapid latency of echo was seen in autistic individuals when compared with normal individuals who echoed. Mentally retarded subjects were chosen to control for the effect of developmental delay. It was hypothesized that there would be a briefer latency for autistic subjects in their echoes in comparison to mentally retarded controls. The results confirmed the hypothesis that autistic subjects differed significantly in latency of echoing from the mentally retarded controls $p < .001$. Since rapid echoing might indicate a generalized pattern of rapid verbalization in the autistic population, the latency of nonechoes was also measured and compared. There was no significant difference between groups for non-echoed interchanges. It was concluded that rapid immediate echolalia was specific to autism. These findings were related to a cognitive model of memory and the sensory auditory (echoic) memory of the multi-store model. This model hypothesizes four levels of storage, with differing durations. The sensory (echoic) memory has outer limits of 1.5 to 4.0 seconds depending on the content. Autistic echoers' latencies of echoing were significantly briefer than the theoretical durations of sensory auditory memory for both meaningful and unsegmented stimuli. In addition, there was no relationship between subjects' average latency of echo and language competence as measured by the Mean Length of Utterance. The results imply that autistic subjects used auditory sensory storage, which has a rapid decay, in the process of echolalia, while mentally retarded subjects did not. This further implies that autistic echolalia reduces the likelihood of recall and generalization. The results indicated the desirability of the study of time delay techniques for interventions with this population. The study also supports a conceptualization of autism as a "difference" rather than a "delay."

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Special education|Speech therapy

Recommended Citation

Lauffer, Daniel Arno, "A comparison of echolalia in autistic and mentally retarded individuals" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9412139.