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Echopathy or echomimia is the involuntary repetition of another person’s words or actions. When words are imitated, this may be defined as echolalia. When a person compulsively repeats the actions of someone else, it is called echopraxia. People can suffer from either echolalia and echopraxia, or simply from echopathy.
It should be understood that there is a very big distinction between willfully repeating another person’s actions or words, and doing it without conscious purpose. In the former, it’s an annoying, often teasing gesture that frequently occurs among school children, particularly siblings. In the latter, the movement or sounds being repeated aren’t on purpose and certainly aren’t meant to tease or annoy others.
The distinction is valuable because there are some people who suffer from echopraxia, or more generally echopathy, that may live in very mainstreamed environments. People with Tourette syndrome may suffer this condition, and in a school setting, the movements of others student might be picked up on by the child and reproduced in an echopractic fashion. Obviously teaching other students in a class not to mind this behavior would be important for mainstreaming success.
It shouldn’t be assumed that echopraxia is only suffered by people with Tourette syndrome, and all people with Tourette’s do not suffer it. There are many illnesses or conditions where echopraxia may occur. Some people with autism are echopractic, and the condition occasionally presents in people with schizophrenia. Other illnesses that are associated with echopathy include Ganser Disorder and occasionally major depressive disorder. From time to time, medical literature presents information about others who have suffered from echopraxia, and this includes those who have suffered brain tumors and some types of seizure disorders.
Due to the variety of conditions associated with echopraxia, it’s hard to say exactly what causes it in all cases or how it is best treated. Most times treating the underlying disease is the best way to minimize echopathy. Parents may find it particularly challenging to help children with this condition when they talk to doctors. Any demonstration of new movements or behaviors by the parent could result in new tics on the part of the echopractic child.
Children, mostly to their benefit, are also extremely observant, and may note small movements in others that might easily be turned into a repetitive movement by self. Of course it can be said that, for anyone, the condition of having unwanted repetitious movements is extremely difficult. This is especially the case, since many times people with this condition are quite cognizant that the behavior is unusual, possibly uncomfortable, and very often draws unwanted attention.