Let’s Learn ABA: Echoics

Hi BTL Fam!

Have you ever played the game “Copy Cat”?? You know the one where you say “stop copying me” and someone else smirks “stop copying me”. Many of us may find this game to be slightly annoying or may have once used it on our own siblings to pester them! However, in ABA terms, we strategically utilize the copy cat game to actually build Verbal Behavior!! Instead, we term this game as an Echoic. 

An Echoic is defined as

A verbal response that matches a verbal stimulus within 5 seconds. The response is identical to the first response that was given.

Many of our programs intertwine echoics when we are building verbal language. We use this practice to work on evoking different sounds, shaping words, building articulation as well as practicing the volume or expression of words. As we build vocal imitation, we are gaining a precursor behavior to other verbal operants. As we have discussed the importantance of other verbal operants, Echoics are critical in building any vocal language. We often use echoics to launch an individual into verbal language and will further develop the other verbal operants from their newly gained echoics.

Lets give an example! 

We are starting a program with a 3 year old boy (Sam) who doesn’t speak much. Sam says some sounds such as “ah”, “oo”, and “ee”. Sam’s BCBA notices that he is super reinforced by bubbles. His BCBA decides to start with echoics. At first, Sam’s behavior tech practices the “buh” sound. The tech says “buh” and then prompts Sam to say “buh”.  They do this multiple times a day and each time he says “buh”. After Sam is saying “buh”, he starts to work on the echoic “buh-boo” His tech says “buh-boo” and then Sam say “buh-boo”. After working on this for a while, Sam’s BCBA eventually shapes this into the word “bubble”. Now that Sam can say “bubble”, he is prompted to say “bubble” each time he wants to blow bubbles. This echoic is then transferred to a mand (request). Since Sam can now say the word bubble, he will use this word to request his bubbles!

Many BCBAs will use this transfer method to build several mands. However, Echoics may also be transferred into other verbal operants such as tacts (labeling items). Echoics are important in many ABA programs and are a great place to start when developing verbal language! So remember, the next time you are playing the copy cat game or hear your kids playing it, know that they are not only playing a game but they are also using echoics!

Written By:

Heid Mann, BCBA, Outreach Consultant