Is my child a Gestalt Language Processor?
When we think of a child learning how to talk, we often think of them saying single words, then putting words together (e.g., “hi mama,” “more cookie”). As they develop, they put more words together and eventually use sentences to express themselves. This way of learning language is called Analytic Language Processing.
Did you know that some children learn language in a different way?
Some children learn language by Gestalt Language Processing, so they tend to learn language first as long strings of information based on intonation, and then over time, they are able to break down these chains of information into smaller and smaller units. Once they are able to isolate single words, they are able to put words together to make word combinations and later, sentences.
Gestalt Language Processors often use delayed echolalia, which means that they repeat information they heard at an earlier time. They typically use the same intonation as the original statement they heard. It could be a line from a favorite show, a phrase someone else said, a line from a favorite book, or even a whole song! These strings of information are called gestalts.
Gestalt Language Processors sometimes have difficulty with flexible, self-generated
communication. If this sounds like your child, they may be a Gestalt Language Processor.
If your child is a Gestalt Language Processor, some communication strategies to use include the following:
Acknowledge their gestalts by: repeating them back, nodding, etc. to show that you hear them.
Whenever possible, try to figure out where the gestalt is from (the source) and then try to figure out the meaning. For example, “Let’s get out of here!” could be a line from a favorite show, and it could mean that the child wants to leave, stop, or end an activity, or it may mean something they were feeling/seeing when they heard it. They may be picturing a scene and sharing information with you.
Use more declarative statements (e.g., “Let’s ____,” “It’s a ___,” I’m ____,”) and less questions in your communication. Following your child’s lead in play and using declarative statements can help your child learn language.
It can sometimes be hard to tell if your child is a Gestalt Language Processor as their speech may be hard to understand, and some Gestalt Language Processors are non-speaking.
In order to help a Gestalt Language Processor develop spontaneous, self-generated language, a framework called Natural Language Acquisition has been developed by Speech Language Pathologist Marge Blanc, based on years of research, clinical practice, and study, and the research of others including Dr. Barry Prizant and Dr. Ann Peters.
If a child is a Gestalt Language Processor, working with a Speech Language Pathologist that is knowledgeable in the Natural Language Acquisition framework can support their development from using delayed echolalia to self-generated language. These SLPs have either taken the Natural Language Acquisition courses by Marge Blanc (I have taken these courses), taken the course offered by Meaningful Speech, or have researched and learned how to provide therapy within this framework.
If you have any questions, please reach out to me today!
Natural Language Acquisition in Autism: Echolalia To Self-Generated Language, Levels 1-3.
Presenter: Marge Blanc, www.northernspeech.com
Resources on Gestalt Language Processing and Natural Language Acquisition:
Resources, handouts, handbook, and course on Natural Language Acquisition for
parents/caregivers and clinicians