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How can I support my child who is a Gestalt Language Processor?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

It's a completely normal way to develop language

First, it's important to know that gestalt language processing is a completely normal and natural way to develop language. Therefore, it is not something that needs to be fixed or ignored. Instead it should be supported. We can support language development for children who are gestalt language processors by taking a different approach than most of us (parents and professionals) typically read, learn, or hear about.

The Natural Language Acquisition Framework

We can use the Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) Framework to help us in supporting gestalt language Processors language development. The NLA framework was developed by Marge Blanc in 2012. This framework outlines the stages that gestalt language processing go through to process and develop language. It is based off of years of clinical research as well as research from the 70s and 80s by Barry Prizant & Ann Peters.

Gestalt language processors have to go through two additional stages to get to where Analytic Language Processors start. With the right support, they will get there and they will get to self-generated language just like analytic language processors.

How can I support a gestalt language processor and help guide them to self-generated language?

1. Acknowledge all their scripts/gestalts

Even if we're unsure of the meaning behind the script or gestalt they're using, we still want to always acknowledge it. This might mean repeating it back to the child, nodding your head, or saying things like "okay!". This is important because it lets the child know that their language development is valid and that we are listening, even if we're unsure of what it means.

2. Do the detective work

Once we hear a script/gestalt, we really want get to work and figure out what the script/gestalt might mean to the child and what they're trying to communicate with us. If the child's scripts/gestalts frequently come from media, this might mean watching their favorite TV shows, reading their favorite books, etc. to find the context the script/gestalt was used in. It also might involve asking the people they spend the most with with, like parents, teachers, daycare providers, if they know where it came from and what it might mean.

3. Model more scripts/gestalts

Gestalt language processors who are predominately communicating using delayed echolalia need more, easy to mix and match (mitigable) scripts. Once we know what the script/gestalt might mean, we want to model what we think they're trying to say, using easily mitigable scripts. For example,

Child: "Do you want a juice box?"

Child is using a question their mother asked them to indicate that they want a juice box. They are using the question in the same intonation and way they previously heard it. It's very common for gestalt language processors to use pronoun reversal because they're repeating verbatim what they heard previously and using it to communicate.

Adult: "Let's get a drink!" or "I'm thirsty!"

The adult is modeling an easily mitigable gestalt for what the juice is trying to communicate. These kinds of phrases are easy to mix and match with other partial gestalts as the child begins to move into stage two of their language development. For example, "let's get a drink" could be mixed and match into "Let's get the trains!", "Let's go outside", "Let's jump!", etc. or "I'm thirsty" can be mitigated to "I'm hungry", "I'm sleepy", etc.

4. Eliminate/Decrease Questions

Focus on using declarative language with your child. This means narrating instead of questioning. Using declarative language gives better language models and gestalt language processors cannot reliably answer questions when they’re in the earlier stages. Also, they will might pick up these questions as scripts and use them to communicate like the juice box example above.

Using declarative language looks like this:

*Adult and child are playing with cars*

Adult models: “I’m playing cars!” instead of adult asking: “What are you playing?”

Find a speech-language pathologist who is knowledgable about gestalt language processing and Natural Language Acquisition

Find a speech-language pathologist who is knowledgable in gestalt language processing and Natural Language Acquisition to help support the child through the stages of Natural Language Acquisition. Here at Play Haven Pediatric Therapy, we are NLA Trained in identifying, assessing, and treating gestalt language processors. Reach out if you're interested in services through Play Haven. If you're not a resident of Massachusetts, you can find an SLP near you that is NLA Trained through the Meaningful Speech registry ( At Play Haven, we also offer Parent Consults if direct therapy isn't an option (more information here). As well as consults for SLPs and other professionals (more information here). Your SLP does not have to be NLA Trained to work with your child but they should be knowledgable or willing to learn more about so that they can better support your child.

Direct Therapy through Play Haven Pediatric Therapy (MA Residents only): click here

Parent Coaching: click here

SLP/Professional Consults (open to anyone, anywhere): click here

Meaningful Speech Course (parents & professionals): click here

Blanc, M. (2012). Natural language acquisition on the autism spectrum: The journey from echolalia to self-generated language. Communication Development Center.
Peters, A. 1983, 2002. The Units of Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Meaningful Speech Course created by Alexandra Zachos, M.S., CCC-SLP, learn more or sign up here: click here
Prizant, B. M. (1982). Gestalt language and gestalt processing in autism. Topics in Language Disorders, 3(1), 16–23.
Prizant, B. M. (1983). Language acquisition and communicative behavior in autism: Toward an understanding of the “whole” of it. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 48(3), 296–307.
Prizant, B. M., & Rydell, P. J. (1984). Analysis of functions of delayed echolalia in autistic children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 27(2), 183–192.
Stiegler, L. N. (2015). Examining the echolalia literature: Where do speech-language pathologists stand? American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24(4), 750–762.
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