Does your child repeat entire sentences, or even speeches they hear their favorite characters say?
Does this seem significantly more advanced than the other speech you hear them say each day? Your child may not speak at all, beyond these memorized statements.
What does this mean, and what can we do about it?
Professionals used to talk about "scripting" or "echolalia" as they described this speech skill. It stands out to parents because it seem that the child is developing language in an unusual way than their peers. You may not hear many other children learning to speak in this way, but it doesn't mean that it's disordered. Professionals now refer to this as gestalt language processing.
Students learning to talk, by repeating phrases they've heard, using the "sounds" of the speech they hear. They begin by repeating the intonation, or prosody, of the messages that match their emotions or the situation. If you "listen" to the emotion behind what your child is saying, you may find it begins to make more sense. (Blanc, Marge, 2012)
Gestalt language processing is a way of understanding language that emphasizes the importance of the whole picture, rather than just the individual words or parts of a sentence.
For children learning with gestalt language processing, traditional approaches to language learning may not be effective. In these cases, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be a powerful tool for supporting language development. Because you know we often use AAC to help DEVELOP language, you won't be surprised that we are considering how AAC can support our children communicating with echolalia.
AAC refers to a range of tools and techniques that can help individuals who have difficulty communicating using speech alone. This can include anything from sign language and single message switches to high-tech devices or iPad applications that use synthesized speech. The goal of AAC is to provide individuals with a way to express themselves, participate in conversations, and develop more age appropriate and effective language, even if they are not able to do so using speech.
For children with gestalt language processing, AAC can be particularly helpful because it allows them to focus on the bigger picture of language, rather than getting bogged down in the details of individual words and phrases. By using visual supports, such as pictures or symbols, AAC helps to create a more holistic understanding of language. This can make it easier for children to recognize patterns and understand the underlying meaning of what they are hearing or reading.
One of the key benefits of AAC is that it can be customized to meet the specific needs of each individual.
This is an important feature to help our children who process and produce speech in "chunks." For these children, we recommend supporting communication by giving children a single symbol (single button) they can select to say an entire message. These might be common phrases such as "Hi, how are you?" (seeing how you feel) and can also include unique and meaningful catch phrases for your child, such as "Paw Patrol is on a roll!" ("I'm ready to go!"). You'll find many AAC system include quick common phrases, such as greetings, requests and social statements, "That's awesome!" Other systems include topic or activity based phrases related to a specific, commonly encountered activity, "Come on in" or "I'll have a cheeseburger, no pickles!"
Overall, AAC is an important tool for supporting language development in children with gestalt language processing. By providing access to AAC systems with more holistic language, which supports language production, AAC can help children to communicate more effectively and participate more fully in social interactions. If you suspect your child is learning language in this "top down" manner, talk to a speech-language pathologist about how AAC may be able to support your child's language development! Give us a call if we can help!