Sign Language Echolalia in Deaf Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Purpose: We present the first study of echolalia in deaf, signing children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We investigate the nature and prevalence of sign echolalia in native-signing children with ASD, the relationship between sign echolalia and receptive language, and potential modality differences between sign and speech.

Method: Seventeen deaf children with ASD and 18 typically developing (TD) deaf children were video-recorded in a series of tasks. Data were coded for type of signs produced (spontaneous, elicited, echo, or nonecho repetition). Echoes were coded as pure or partial, and timing and reduplication of echoes were coded.

Results: Seven of the 17 deaf children with ASD produced signed echoes, but none of the TD deaf children did. The echoic children had significantly lower receptive language scores than did both the nonechoic children with ASD and the TD children. Modality differences also were found in terms of the directionality, timing, and reduplication of echoes.

Conclusions: Deaf children with ASD sometimes echo signs, just as hearing children with ASD sometimes echo words, and TD deaf children and those with ASD do so at similar stages of linguistic development, when comprehension is relatively low. The sign language modality might provide a powerful new framework for analyzing the purpose and function of echolalia in deaf children with ASD.