Lately, I've been trying something new. If I can identify the source of the delayed echolalia at all, and I can remember what comes next, I respond back with that. For example, Janey quoted a part of an Angelina Ballerina video to me today about telling a lie, from when Angelina tells people her mother is having a baby when she isn't. I remembered the quote, and said back "I have to admit, when you tell a lie, it's a whopper. And a little embarrassing", which is what Angelina's parents say to her after her lie is figured out. The look on Janey's face was enough to make me think I was on the right track. Janey looked thrilled, like I was really getting her. I had let her know I knew what she was thinking about, and I added to it. Janey then said the next line, which I hadn't remembered, and looked at me eagerly, but I didn't have any more memorized.
I think what happened here is that I gave Janey an idea what a conversation feels like. She said something, I responded with something that related to what she said and added to it. She looked so happy, like I had figured out what she'd been looking for. At this point, Janey's speech is not at a point where real conversations can happen often. But that doesn't probably mean she wouldn't like the good feeling of having a conversation, and maybe somehow the delayed echolalia is partly an attempt to have one. This also might be why she loves nursery rhymes or predictable fairy tales so much. They let her start her version of back and forth conversations.
Of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a lot of doubts about whether this kind of response is a good idea. Am I just encouraging rote reciting? Am I losing out on an opportunity to work on REAL speech? What I've told myself back is that it's been many years now, and Janey doesn't seem to be making a lot of progress toward real speech. At this point, I think the most crucial thing is to let her connect via talking, to keep her interesting in someday talking more usefully. If I'm always answering her in a way that doesn't let her feel satisfied and happy, I don't think I'm encouraging her to talk. As often, Janey is showing me what she needs, I think. When I respond to her quoted speech with the next part of the quote, she gets a look in her eyes I don't often see, a happy, connected look. She looks right at me, and looks eager to go on with the back and forth quoting. I think I'm going to go with this approach for a while, and I might spend more time with Mother Goose type reading, to give her more lines to say back and forth that I am familiar with. As almost always, I'm making it up as I go along. It's the best I can do with the unique kid I've been given.