Brecksville speech therapists talk Gestalt language processing, echolalia, and scripting

Flip the Script: Brecksville Speech Therapists Talk “Scripting”

Lots of kids when they’re learning to talk will repeat words or phrases they’ve heard. But if your child’s language is less conversational and more repeating certain lines of their favorite TV shows or books, they may be “scripting” or displaying signs of delayed echolalia. Our Brecksville speech therapists can help you break down what this means and what to do about it.

First let’s start with echolalia. As defined by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, ASHA, it’s the repetition of utterances produced by others. It’s sometimes called verbal imitation. There are two kinds of echolalia, delayed and immediate. Immediate echolalia is when a child will repeat an utterance right after they heard it or after just a short period of time. Delayed echolalia is when utterances are repeated after a longer delay.

As Brecksville speech therapists, we see delayed echolalia a lot among kids on the autism spectrum. One form of delayed echolalia that is particularly common among people with autism is called “scripting.” Scripting is a verbal tool that a lot of children and even adults with ASD use that helps them when engaging in spoken interactions.

For a long time, it was assumed delayed echolalia was pointless in terms of communication. However, there’s a growing body of research to suggest there are numerous functions of it, including affirming, requesting, labeling, taking turns, and protesting. As such, scripting is increasingly being recognized as a form of communication among people with autism, specifically the substantial portion of them who are Gestalt language processors.

Although the medically community technically still characterizes echolalia/scripting as speech disorders, many see Gestalt language development as its own separate – but not “wrong” – style of learning to communicate. It involves learning language in “gestalts” or chunks, rather than one-word-at-a-time, as they would with Analytic Language Development (the latter being more common among neurotypical kids).

Gestalt language learners will often start by speaking in whole phrases, sentences, or “scripts” – which they’ll later learn to break down into smaller chunks of phrases that get mixed and matched to make meaning. Eventually, they’ll learn to break them down into single words and combine those to make sentences.

Analytic language development involves a child who learns one word at a time. When they have more than a handful, they’ll start combining two or more words, and then short phrases, then sentences that keep getting longer and more complex.

Clues Your Child Might be a Gestalt Language Learner

Some indicators that your child might be a Gestalt Language Processor include:

  • They repeat lines from their favorite movies, shows, or storybooks
  • They speak with rich intonation; the words may be unclear, but the tone and rhythm is recognizable
  • They have been identified as being echolalic
  • They often speak in the third person or make mistakes with pronouns
  • They have a tough time answering questions
  • They don’t talk, but they often hum or sing rhythmically
  • They sing songs or quote the words from shows, even if they aren’t really talking yet
  • They prefer to play the same way, re-enacting the same scenes or lines over and over

Language researchers have identified distinct phases of Gestalt language learning – and it starts with delayed echolalia / scripting. The stages of it are:

  • Whole gestalts/Echolalia. This is when a language learning is repeating entire scripts, songs, whole phrases and sentences. Ex: “Do you wanna build a snowman? Come on let’s go and play.”
  • Partial Gestalts / Mitigations. They start just saying pieces or parts of script, and sometimes will mix and match. Ex: “Build a snowman.” “Come on let’s go.”
  • Isolated single words. They’ll isolate single words from the gestalt and start combining it with others. Ex: “Snowman” + “Hat”
  • Original phrases. This is the phase where they start combining words they know from these “scripts” and pair them with original phrases to start making sentences. Ex: “He make a snowman.”
  • Original sentences. The child will start creating original sentences using more complex grammatical elements. Ex: “Did he make that snowman yesterday?”
  • Complete grammar. This is when we start seeing original sentences with a complete system of grammar. Ex: “If it snows tonight, he can go build a giant snowman.”

How Brecksville Speech Therapists Can Help With Echolalia & Scripting

Although kids with Gestalt language processing might not always need speech therapy, it’s often helpful – particularly if they have a condition like autism processing disorder.

“Scripting” and echolalia are forms of communication, even the rest of us are not understanding the child’s meaning. They’re usually trying to convey something different than the literal meaning of the words they’re saying. Our Brecksville speech therapists will help identify the meaning of the gestalts or phrases your child is using, so that we can formulate effective responses and begin engaging them in meaningful communication.

We also follow their lead, imitating their speech – which in turn encourages them to imitate us. When we can get them repeating our words – as we’re attaching the correct meaning to them – it can help them use their words more effectively. We model language, mixing and matching the chunks of language they are using to create new utterances and encourage original phrases and sentences.

If you start to notice your child is regularly “scripting” or engaging in delayed echolalia, a comprehensive evaluation by one of our skilled speech-language pathologists can help determine whether they would benefit from speech-language therapy.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Echolalia and Its Role in Gestalt Language Acquisition, ASHA

More Blog Entries:

Why Pediatric Speech Therapy Demand is WAY Up, Jan. 5, 2024, Brecksville Speech Therapists Blog