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  • Writer's picturePlay Haven Pediatric Therapy

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

Updated: Sep 6

It's a completely normal way to develop language

First, it's important to know that gestalt language development 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 is a detailed outline of the stages gestalt language processors go through. It is based off of years of clinical research as well as research from the 1970s and 1980s by Dr. Barry Prizant, Dr. Ann Peters & their colleagues.

Gestalt language processors have to go through two additional stages to get to where Analytic Language Processors start. With the right supports, they can get to the later stages of gestalt language development (Stages 4-6), using self-generated language and communicating with complex grammar sentences.

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

1. Acknowledge all their scripts/gestalts

Even if you'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, smiling 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 mitigable gestalts/scripts (easy to mix and match or trim down in Stage 2) . Once we know what the script/gestalt might mean, we want to model what we think they're trying to say, using an easily mitigable language model. We want to model these naturally, without expectation. We're not looking for the child to imitate our models. Gestalt language processors will pick up language if it is meaningful to them.

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

Eliminate questioning as a way to connect with the child. Focus on using declarative language with them instead This means narrating and commenting instead of questioning. Using declarative language provides more natural, mitigable language models. Also, gestalt language processors cannot reliably answer questions when they’re in the earlier stages (Stages 1-3). This is because they are not using self-generated language to answer these questions. They will also likely pick up these questions as gestalts 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 with?”

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 LLC, we are NLA Trained in identifying, assessing, and supporting gestalt language processors. Reach out if you're interested in services through Play Haven. If you're not a resident of Massachusetts, we offer parent or professional consultations virtually with no location restrictions. These can be set up at whatever frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, one-time) you need (more information here). You can also find an NLA-Trained SLP near you that is NLA Trained through the Meaningful Speech registry ( 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/Professional Coaching: 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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