By definition, echolalia is repetition of sounds made by others. It is a normal occurrence in child development.
In psychiatry it is the immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others; often a symptom of autism or some types of schizophrenia.
In medicine it is a disorder seen in certain psychotic states and in certain organic brain syndromes. Also known as echophrasia. (The Free Dictionary)
Being aware that no two children are the same, I try to recall an echolalic phase my son went though and compare it with descriptions from sites and blogs on developmental delays and disorder in children.
Life with Little Children illustrates:
Echolalia means repeating back (echo) things that are said (lalia). For example you would ask, “What do you want?” and instead of answering you, they would respond with, “What do you want?” Or they parrot you around like when you say, “Look, there’s the stop sign” and they echo “There’s the stop sign.”
Once I showed my son an illustrated Bible story. A minute into the first page, he looked up from the book and faced me, “This is Jesus?” “He’s walking on the water?” “on the water?” “on the water?” The way I see it it’s himself he repeats after particularly the last words of his own observation. He does not necessarily repeat what I say to him. If he does, he says it in question form and echoes himself.
At three he can sing an entire hymn, recite verses, or cheekily point his chopstick at me and exclaim (Harry Potter’s) lumos maxima! but he can’t ask for milk when he needs it. He memorizes almost the entire content of his Baby Einstein DVDs, names many animals I don’t even know of but often I have to ask him if he needs to go to the bathroom because he never does even when he is supposed to.
While echolalia is known to begin at around 18 months of age, peaks at 30 months and declines significantly by the time a child turns 3, my son’s speech seemed normal until he turned 4. His developmental pediatrician was pensive, ‘has he regressed?’
This is the silver lining that I am looking for:
Echolalia is actually a positive sign that children with developmental problems may eventually be able to learn to use language to communicate. (Teach Me To Talk)
The purpose of echolalia is unclear, but it has been believed to serve a number of functions, including conversation maintenance, communication, self-soothing and verbal rehearsal. (Bright Tots)
And something I am most happy about is that my son is now talking normally again after two years of speech therapy.