Scripting is a term often used synonymously with delayed echolalia. Both terms refer to utterances that are repeated after a significant delay. It could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months after originally heard (Prizant & Rydell, 1984). These gestalts/scripts may come from videos, books movies, TV shows, communicative partners, song, etc. Children who use delayed echolalia/scripting to communicate are gestalt language processors. Gestalt language development is one of two ways children can develop language.
The child is using a script/gestalt they picked up from their favorite show, Peppa Pig, to communicate to their parent that they don't like their dinner. The whole chunk of language has one meaning to the child and they use this script/gestalt every time they want to communicate that they dislike their food.
The child is using a script/gestalt from a phrase their teacher says to the class every morning at circle. They are using this gestalt to initiate an interaction with peers. This whole chunk of language has a single meaning to the child. They always use "good morning, everybody!" to initiate interactions with peers, adults, etc.
The child is using a question that their caregiver previously asked them when they were hurt to communicate that they're not feeling well to their mother. Since this chunk of language was heard previously while they didn't feel well, they picked it up to mean "I dont feel well" or "something hurts". They use this every time they want to communicate this to someone.
Gestalt Language Development vs. Analytic Language Development
Gestalt language processing involves predictable stages that begin with the acquisition of intonationally rich multi-word utterances (e.g., echolalic utterances) that function as single units/serve a single meaning and eventually move towards breaking down these echolalic utterances to begin recombining segments and words into spontaneous, novel language. Research shows between 75%-85% of Autistic children are gestalt language processors (Prizant, 1983), but not all gestalt language processors are Autistic. Gestalt language development is a completely normal and natural way to develop language, though some children get stuck in the early stages (delayed/mitigated echolalia). Children who are stuck, continue to use delayed echolalia to communicate past the toddler years (past the age of 2 ½). Children who remain stuck past the toddler years may need support from a speech-language pathologist knowledgable in gestalt language processing and the Natural Language Acquisition framework to help guide them to the later stages of their language development and the ultimate goal of self-generated language.
The other type of language development is called Analytic Language Development which also involves predictable stages but children begin with single words as units of meaning and expand their utterances to two words, three words, and so on. This is the language development that we often learn about in school as speech-language pathologists or online and in doctors offices as parents. Analytic language processors may also require help from a speech-language pathologist to expand on their language and support grammar development.
They each require a different approach to support their language development. Strategies meant for Analytic Language Processors like utterance expansion, labeling, vocabulary building, and conversational turn-taking, won't work for Gestalt Language Processors. Gestalt language processors need support by using the Natural Language Acquisition framework to guide therapy. This involves providing children in the early stages with more scripts/gestalts that are easy to mix and match/mitigate. Once gestalt language processors have more gestalts and a variety of gestalts, they will begin to mix and match these into new semi-unique gestalts. From there, they will begin to break down the single words from these gestalts and begin to identify each single word as a unit of meaning. Once they are able to recognize single words as meaningful units, they will begin to self-generate language using beginning grammar.
If your child is using delayed echolalia/scripting to communicate, find a speech-language pathologist who is knowledgable about Gestalt Language Processing
Here at Play Haven Pediatric Therapy, we are NLA Trained through the Meaningful Speech course 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, you can find an SLP near you that is NLA Trained through the Meaningful Speech registry (https://www.meaningfulspeechregistry.com/).
*Note: Your child's speech-language pathologist 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.
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