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Why does my child with autism repeat dialogue from TV and video games?

Joane Goodroe
Nursing

Repeating the language dialogues from TV and video games is sometimes referred to “echolalia” (repeating or parroting) very often seen in children with autism. Processing of language occurs when the right and left brain work together. In autism, the bridge connecting the right and left brain is "out of order". When the connection works normally, we learn words and then put them into context in different situations. Children with autism are building vocabulary but it is difficult to process through the brain for a typical conversation.

Parroting is a way to compensate for the lack of normal word processing which leads to communication. Taking the phrases and sentences that the child parrots and helping the child try to talk about their sentence and what it means is a step towards building communication skills.

Chantal Sicile-Kira
Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities
For a young child, the fact that he is quoting dialogue from films or video games is a good sign in terms of his verbal abilities. He may be repeating them because he likes the sound, or he is understanding those words and phrases form listening to them over and over. Pay attention to whether or not he is repeating bits of dialogue at appropriate times, which would show that he is understanding the meaning or intent. For example, my son used to repeat certain lines form Sesame Street that had to do with eating cookies when that is what he wanted to eat. When he slips on the stairs, he says “Whoops! Sorry!” in the same voice he has heard in a favorite video. This is a good sign. 
I would suggest you get him interested in communicating with you by getting to know the movies and games he is quoting from, and then dialogue and connect with him by repeating them as well. He will be more interested in you if you take an interest in what he is into. You can repeat the bits of dialogue at appropriate moments. Then, use the characters from the movies and write social stories about what they would do in certain real life situations, getting him to help more and more, gradually getting him into talking about the here and now and not so much the pretend world. Using his interest to connect with him and to teach him how to connect with others is an important first step.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.