Do you ever find yourself repeatedly, unintentionally sharing others’ gestures or figures of speech? This is actually very common among autistic people.
By Madeleine Matthews
Mimicry is a very normal part of human behaviour, and all people mimic one another to connect socially. When mimicking behaviour is heightened, repetitive, or often occurs out of context, it can be classified as something that lies outside of the ‘normal’ range. Two common conditions that explain this are echopraxia, meaningless imitation of movements just made by another person, and echolalia, meaningless repetition of words just spoken by another person, or repetition of words as a child is learning to talk. Both conditions are very common for certain neurodivergent conditions, like schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome, and autism, which we’ll be focusing on in this article. While both conditions often fade out after childhood, they can still manifest in adult habits.
For young children learning to communicate, both echopraxia and echolalia can be stepping stones to confidently speaking with others. From childhood onwards, both can be ways to try to connect socially and express oneself. Due to their often-repeated nature, one common question about echolalia and echopraxia is if they count as stimming, the repetitive actions or vocalizations autistic people often display. This depends on context. While echopraxia and echolalia can’t always be categorized as stimming, phrases and actions being repeated might contribute to self-soothing the same way stimming does.