What Does Perseveration Mean Anyways?




Perseveration is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. In articles, in conversation between therapists and parents, online…

But more often than not, I find that many parents are not quite sure how this term applies (or doesn’t apply to their child). So let’s pick it apart and break it down today so you recognize it next time you hear it in conversation or read it in an article. And then you can also decide if it is relevant to you and your child.

So what the heck does it mean?

Perseveration is when a child repeats a particular response, like a word, phrase or gesture, without something present to trigger that particular response. For some children they have trouble switching away from a word, phrase or gesture that they just produced. It is as if they get stuck on a word and as a result they continue to repeat it over and over again even though it is no longer relevant to the conversation or social context. Here’s an example so you can have a picture or play a movie in your mind to help determine if your kiddo does this.

For a verbal child, if you were to ask what color is the heart (for this purpose let’s say it’s red) and they tell you “red” they are correct. However, if you go on to ask questions where they should respond with other colors but they continue to say “red”, they are stuck on “red” or in other words perseverating on red. For example, you may ask, what color is the (blue) star? Instead of saying blue (even if they know the label for the color blue) they will still say “red”. They know that it is not actually red; however, it’s as if their response center in the brain is having a hard time switching from the concept of red to another color. They appear to be stuck.

For a nonverbal child, if they were to respond to what color is it with the sign for “red” and then continued to produce the same sign/gesture for each question that followed (where the answer is not red), this would also be an example of perseverating on “red”. It’s exactly the same as above, just a different way of responding (with a gesture rather than a verbal word).

So what can you do to help your kiddo?

My best tip is to do the following:

  1. Take a short break (30 seconds to a minute) so their mind can hit reset.
  2. Ask them to do a motor movement (e.g., clap your hands, high five). For example, ask them to “clap your hands”, “give a high 5” or you can take their hands and do a little wiggle movement. Really any motor movement will work. Sometimes this helps them wipe that slate clean and start fresh so they get unstuck on that concept (of red for example).
  3. Sing a song if they like music. Just switching gears and activating a different part of the brain can help to get them unstuck from that concept of red.

The idea here is to redirect them or in other words, change what you and they are doing…and then come back to the questions at hand and they should be able to give you a more accurate response, rather than repeating what they had just been stuck on when you asked before they took a break and were redirected.

So does your kiddo do this? Be sure to join the discussion by commenting below! If you would like other tips on how to help your kiddo, ask away!

With Love,

Hallie Bulkin