Speech Therapy Tips for Gestalt Language Processors

What is a Gestalt Language Processor?

There are two different types of ways to acquire language. One way is analytic language processing. This is the more commonly known and understood way to learn a language. It starts with children learning single words as basic units and building up to two words, three words, and so on. The other way is called gestalt language processing.


These children often begin learning a language in chunks or multi-words as basic units. Most autistic children are analytic language processors and display this type of process through what many call “scripting” or “echolalia”. Both ways have stages that children will progress through, but some may need some additional help from speech therapists. It is important to remember that when children continue to use delayed echolalia to communicate past the toddler years, it is considered a delay in language development, not a disorder. (Steigler, 2015).


Stages of Gestalt Language Acquisition


Echolalia: Utterances are largely echolalic and serve either a turn-taking function in conversation or a self-stimulatory function.

Mitigation: Cognitive growth and experiences fuel echolalia that serves greater variety of functions.

Isolating Words & Recombining: Early language structure is learned and echolalic utterances are broken down more as spontaneous language increases.

Generation: Spontaneous and more flexible language grows as semantic, syntactic, and morphological rules are acquired.

(@sleepyspeechy via Instagram)


Tips for Therapy for Gestalt Language Processors:

  • Let the child lead. Therapy for gestalt language processors should be mostly child-led. Building genuine connections serves as the basis for communication. It is important for these learners to understand that their interests and authentic self mean more to us than their compliance. Following their lead allows for optimal communication skills because everyone learns when they’re interested, right? Observe, wait, and listen.

  • Do NOT ignore echolalia. Echolalia IS COMMUNICATION! Just because it may sound out of context for us therapists, does not mean that there is no meaning behind it. This child demonstrating echolalia is using this script to communicate something specific. It is our job to be the detective and figure out what it means. The bottom line is always responding to echolalia! We have to let the child know their communication is valid and heard.

  • Eliminate questions. If we focus on providing declarative language, this will provide our gestalt language processors with great language models. In the early stages of gestalt language processing, questions can be extremely difficult for these kids. If you must ask a question, stick to providing choices (ex: Do you want this or that?) paired with visuals or yes/no questions paired with visuals.

  • Give MORE scripts! Children in the early stages of gestalt language acquisition need more scripts (AKA LANGUAGE!). Providing these scripts in context will allow our kids to learn more language and eventually be able to use it flexibly. Just like toddlers who are analytic processors need more words, our gestalt language processors need more scripts!


To learn more about gestalt language processing and how you can work better with these kids in therapy sessions, visit @meaningfulspeech on Instagram!

Author: Camryn Hess, M.S., CCC-SLP

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. The content is based on the author's personal experiences, research, and opinions. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified professional or expert before making any decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this blog.

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