Effects of Demand Complexity on Echolalia in Students With Autism


Echolalia is a linguistic phenomenon common in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. We examined the relationship between demand complexity and immediate echolalia in four students with an autism diagnosis in a university-based academic setting. Mastered and novel antecedent verbal demands that required an intraverbal response were systematically alternated using a multielement design to test whether participants’ immediate echolalia was socially mediated. Results showed that immediate echolalia was more likely to occur during complex novel intraverbal tasks than in any other condition. Implications for function-based treatment strategies are discussed.

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Correspondence to Matthew L. Edelstein.

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The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The current study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Rutgers University (#E14-676) and was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from legal guardians.

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Research Highlights

• Antecedent relationships to target behavior can be idiosyncratic and often depend heavily on individuals’ prior learning histories.

• Modifications of more widely used antecedent-based assessments may be important to determine variables evoking challenging behavior.

• Functional assessments of target topographies of challenging behavior are useful for developing appropriate treatments.

This research was based on a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree by the first author (IRB Approval E14-676).

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Edelstein, M.L., Sloman, K. & Selver, K. Effects of Demand Complexity on Echolalia in Students With Autism. Behav Analysis Practice (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-020-00535-7

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  • Functional assessment
  • Echolalia
  • Functional communication training