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A Definition Of Echolalia From Someone Who Has Experienced It

When I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome the doctor gave us the skinny on what he called “Possible manifestations.” I had told him what my tics were, then he told me what they might become. I was already nervous about what was happening to me–involuntary movements and vocalizations. But some of the things he rattled off in a bored monotone sounded even stranger than the motor tics I was experiencing.

Echolalia was the one I focused on because that was one that I had actually had some experience with. I had thought that my symptoms up to that point were completely random. Now I could see that maybe they weren’t.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Echolalia: 1. a. Path. The meaningless repetition of words and phrases. b.Educational Psychol. The repetition of words and phrases by a child that is learning to speak.

So, if a person with echolalia hears a sound or a word, they will repeat it involuntarily. I realized that I had been doing this in some instances, even going back to when I was a child.

If someone said something that created the urge to vocalize, then I would typically vocalize in a way that resembled the words, or sometimes just the sounds, that I had heard. This would happen in the movie theater, in casual conversations, and sometimes even when I would hear something in my head.

Most people I have spoken about this with say they have an inner voice when they think. For me, that inner voice could produce a mental sound that I would then have to echo.

But like most tics I have, I could have altered it somehow, had I needed to. I didn’t need to because I was generally not around people who said things that I could not afford to echo!

The brain is a wonderful, powerful piece of equipment, but it only takes a couple of crossed wires or an itty-bitty dopamine surplus to make things pretty silly.

Given the choice, I would take echolalia over coprolalia every time. Coprololia is what I generally call “Hollywood Tourettes.” If you ever see someone in a movie who has TS, it’s usually the incredibly rare version where they are yelling obscenities uncontrollably.

But a move about someone who just echoed sounds wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining!


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