You may have heard the terms “echolalia” or “scripting”, you may have even been told to stop your child from repeating phrases and songs from media like YouTube and movies because it has no purpose.
You may have felt that this wasn’t a good idea or effective because you see that your child uses these scripts in certain situations or when they feel certain emotions. They may even use these scripts to make requests or share ideas.
Does this mean my child learns language differently?
Yes, that’s exactly right. Traditionally the field of speech pathology has designed interventions around analytic language processing (see below). However, the shift to Neurodiversity-affirming approaches to support has brought us back to finding and using techniques which suit individual needs and strengths.
And this takes us back to research on child language development that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s which shows 2 ways that children naturally develop language.
Analytic Language vs Gestalt Language
Gestalt language processing means that a child learns language in longer strings that are related to emotional context.
For example “I need a band-aid” may be a script that a child learns during a moment they have injured themselves and so they received a hug from their caregiver.
So, the child later uses “I need a band-aid” to indicate they want a hug rather than literally asking for a band-aid.
When a child applies a whole script like this it considered “delayed echolalia” and is considered a stage 1 gestalt. Please note that “delayed” here refers to the time it is used vs delayed in terms of development.
It is important to note that Gestalt language processing does not equal Autism. However, the majority, if not all autistic people, are gestalt language (and cognitive) processors.
What can I do to help?
- Follow your child’s lead and join them in their interests
- Put sensory motor supports in place to help your child co-regulate
- Be a detective. Write down your child’s scripts, take note of when they are used and what they might mean.
- Sharing your child’s common scripts with others who spend time with them can help improve the success of your child’s communicative interactions.
- Acknowledge the scripts by commenting on them or repeating them and then model something related to the script.
- Seek the help of a Neurodiversity Affirming Speech Pathologist who can work WITH your child’s learning and language style to help them extend their language and increase their communicative success.
- Natural Language Acquisition Study Group (facebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/NLAStudyGroup/
- Making sense of echolalia (youtube webinar):
Prizant, B. (1983). Language Acquisition and communicative behavior in autism: Toward an understanding of the “Whole” of it. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 48, 296-307.
Stiegler, L. N. (2015). Examining the echolalia literature: Where do speech-language pathologists stand? American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24, 750-762.
Blanc, M. 2012. Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language. Madison, WI: Communication Development Center Inc.
*Blog prepared by Georgia Stuart, Neurodiversity Affirming Speech Pathologist, Small TALK speech therapy