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Understanding Language: My child echoes their favorite show but struggles to communicate their needs

Updated: Jan 24

Parents have come to me, time and time again, wondering why their child won’t say “more” or “go” but can recite a line from their favorite TV show. They want to know why they repeat this word, sentence, or phrase on multiple occasions, yet they will not label the object they desire when it comes to play. If you are one of these parents, you may have heard the terms echolalia or delayed echolalia. Children who express themselves using echolalia are also known as Gestalt Language Processors.

Speech therapy autism

There are two types of language processors. You have Analytic Language Processors who acquire language through single word units and eventually learn to combine these words into phrases and sentences. For example, the child may verbalize “want” and then point to desired item, eventually this will transition to “want go”, and then later, “I want to go.” 

Gestalt Language Processors start with units we call gestalts. This can be a common word, phrase, or sentence that takes on meaning for them. For instance, “Let’s go” may be a gestalt for the individual. Perhaps, they love to go to the park or get the in car and will often say “Let’s go!” when it is time to leave the house. As an analytical processor, we instantly think this means they want to go to somewhere, and we may respond with “Do you want to go to the park?”  Or “Where do you want to go?” When we get no response or “Let’s go” once more, it is easy to get frustrated or discouraged when communicating with your child. However, with gestalt language processors that simple gestalt may be what they associate with joy. If they are enjoying a play routine at home and start to say, “Let’s go!” the gestalt may simply mean, they are enjoying themselves, not that they are asking to go anywhere. What is the best thing to do? Acknowledge their utterance. For example, “Let’s go!” if they continue to get excited about the activity, model another phrase, “Let’s go! I love this!” The gestalt, “Let’s go!” can later be mitigated. Meaning, you can turn that into “Let’s go to the store.” Or “Let’s go home.”

gestalt language processor echolalia

As a therapist, educator, or parent, you need to embrace these gestalts and acknowledge them as communication. For too long, we have ignored the echolalia and shaped an appropriate response to a question or situation. It is time to stop using analytic language approaches with gestalt language processors. We need to acknowledge that there are two forms of language acquisition and each benefit from a different therapeutic approach.

This shift in communication style can be difficult for an analytic processor. You may be thinking, “What am I supposed to say?” or “How am I supposed to know what they mean?” This is where the guidance of a NLA trained (Natural Language Acquisition) speech-language pathologist would benefit you, your child, and your family. Not all speech- language pathologists have been trained in the Natural Language Acquisition model. There is a registry in which you can search for the therapists in your area that have been trained and passed the final evaluation of this training. I will link the registry below.

Where can I learn more?

This blog post is just a very small peak into the language development of GLPs. Parents, therapists, and educators, I encourage you to head over to to learn more about much needed approach for our gestalt language processors. You and your child will be so glad you did!

The next time you have a friend voice concern over their child that echoes their favorite show but struggles to communicate their wants and needs, tell them to look into Gestalt Language Processors. If you are local and would like to schedule an evaluation for your Gestalt Language Processor, contact Balanced Beginnings Pediatric Therapy, PLLC to check availability at (919) 213- 0942.

Speech language pathologist Wake Forest, NC

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