Palilalia: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

This language disorder is characterized by the repetition of short phrases, words, or syllables.


Probably the word Palilalia does not tell you anything, but surely you recognize or have heard of its symptoms: spontaneous and involuntary repetition of syllables, words or phrases.

Palilalia is a language disorder similar to stuttering. This disorder is considered a tic, due to the unconscious and unwilling repetitions that are carried out.

Palilalia: what is it?

Etymologically, the word “Palilalia” comes from the Greek and is broken down into two parts: páli, which means “again” and laló, which means “speak. Palilalia, which is also called paliphrasia, can be associated with pathologies such as Tourette’s syndrome, autism or certain dementias that we will see below.

In this article, you will learn what exactly palilalia consists of, the most relevant characteristics of palilalia, the most common causes that can cause palilalia, related disorders and finally the treatments and ideas for this affectation.


Palilalia is considered a language impairment that is usually present in children of developing age.

Under this affectation, children repeatedly emit syllables, words or phrases, but they can also emit unintelligible sounds, incomplete words or random words that do not fit the context of the situation being discussed.

Palilalia is a disorder that can easily be confused with echolalia. The echolalia is another disorder of the language in which there is also a repetition of syllables, words or phrases, but in this case the repetition is based on the words that have just been pronounced, as an echo, in some cases even emulating pronunciation .

In addition, in echolalia, the affected person may repeat words that they have heard in television programs, radio, cinema, etc., that is, not necessarily in conversations. These imitated words can be repeated an unlimited number of times, depending on the degree of affectation in question, and that these repetitions can be under situations that require a verbal response (called non-functional echoic), for example, when a child is He asks “how old are you?”, to which the child responds: “you are, you are, you are”

However, in both cases these repetitions are emitted involuntarily, semi-automatically and of a compulsive type.


One of the reasons why palilalia is triggered may be that, in essence, imitative behavior is a common and adaptive response in children, since they use it to learn and internalize certain data or information in general. However, this behavior often disappears over time, as these children in question develop other more functional behaviors.

It has been documented that there is a genetic vulnerability to suffer from disorders such as palilalia. This vulnerability means that there is a predisposition to develop the disorder, but it is not a single cause, since other triggers are required to develop palilalia.

These factors would be environmental factors such as stress, anxiety (the repetition of words suffered by the child usually generates great anxiety in the child, generating a vicious circle that does not solve the problem), boredom, frustration, developmental disorders, perinatal disorders, etc. On the other hand, it has been postulated that there are physiological factors that may be associated with palilalia, such as excess dopamine.

In addition, there is a common factor in most of those affected by palalia, and that is that they tend to have a premonitory sensation before repeating that syllable, word or phrase, and this same sensation works as an unpleasant stimulus, so that when the word is repeated , the person experiences a relief, constituting a reinforcement of the behavior.

Related disorders

There are several disorders that are altering the functioning of language, which is why they are related to palilalia. Next we will look at the disorders that are most commonly associated with palilalia.

1. Tourette syndrome

The Tourette Syndrome is the chronic repetition of motor tics, accompanied by vocal tics. One of the most well-known symptoms of tourette syndrome is the impulsive emission of obscene or morally objectionable words. Another very similar symptom is palilalia.

2. Autism spectrum disorders

The autism spectrum encompasses a number of developmental-related disorders. These disorders have in common the impairment of communication, behavior, and social interactions. On the autism spectrum, palilalia disorder may also be present, due to the fact that there is an alteration in areas of development such as language.

3. Dementia

Finally, dementia pathologies can be closely associated with palilalia. Dementias, which are pathologies where there is neurodegeneration, lead to the loss of cognitive abilities.

When neurodegeneration affects brain regions that are involved in language and self-regulation, language symptoms such as palilalia or echolalia can appear.


First, it must be taken into account that the diagnosis of palalia as a language and psychological disorder occurs when it is considered that palilalia deteriorates the quality of life of the person, generating discomfort or suffering in the patient.

The treatment provided then usually varies depending on the degree of involvement of palilalia in the patient’s daily life, taking into account factors such as the periodicity of the symptoms, or the duration of these. Thus, a high frequency and duration of the involuntary repetitions characteristic of palilalia can affect, for example, the quality of sleep of the patient.

Obviously there is nothing that makes repetitions disappear forever, but there are procedures that alleviate these symptoms, such as behavioral therapies, performed by psychologists specializing in language and / or childhood. These therapies can be accompanied by the help of speech therapists.

In more serious cases, neuroleptic drugs can be used if advised by a specialist, in order to prevent symptoms from affecting the quality of life of patients, as we have already commented, impacting, for example, on the quality of sleep.

In any case, the parents or guardians of the children must always be alert in order to avoid stressful situations for the child. Also, learning relaxation techniques that keep them calm in critical moments of constant repetition is a good recommendation for parents.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association (2016). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Panamericana Medical Publishing House.
  • Calavia-Traín, J. (2014). State of the art: speech disorders in the first years of age. LINK.
  • Chernousova, L. (2008). The conception of severe communication disorders. LUZ, Educate from science, 7 (1).

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