What is Gestalt Language Processing? Gestalt Language Processing is a natural way to develop and learn language. These children learn and process language through “chunks” of language, rather than single words. These “chunks” or “gestalts” may come from things they have overheard and have been meaningful to them (songs, short catchy phrases, tv or movie quotes). You may also hear strings of intonation that sound like they are singing or talking but are unintelligible. These scripts or echolalic phrases are meaningful and communicative! How do I know if my child might be a Gestalt Language Processor?
Produce long strings of rich intonation, but unintelligible
Repeats lines from movies, television shows, commercials, or games
Has difficulties asking and/or answering questions
May not speak yet, but sings or hums with rich intonation and rhythm
Your child may not be responding well to “traditional” therapy approaches
May have “stuck” single words that are not able to be combined to 2+ word phrases
What is Natural Language Acquisition? Natural Language Acquisition is an evidence-based framework that describes the six stages of gestalt language development that was created by speech-language pathologist Marge Blanc (based off research from Dr. Barry Prizant and Dr. Anne Peter’s). There are two ways to develop and process language: analytic and gestalt. Analytic language processes will learn language by adding sounds, words, phrases, and sentences together to communicate (“ba” -> “ball” ->“green ball->I see a green ball”). Whereas gestalt language processors focus on the intonation and process language in “chunks”. They often will often store these “chunks of language” and use them later while keeping the same intonation that the original speaker used. For example, the child may overhear “to the rescue!” from a favorite television show and say that “chunk” every time they need help. At this stage of Natural Language Acquisition, the child has a hard time separating those “chunks” into single words to create spontaneous and original language. Using the Natural Language Acquisition framework, your therapist can help guide your child from echolalia to self-generated, original, and flexible language.
What does therapy look like? Connection, trust, and child-led! This type of therapy may seem and look different from what a child may have previously received and that’s ok! We know the first step for children to learn language is that they need connection and trust with their communication partners. The second step is to follow their lead and play how they want to play. All play is ok! We will really start to see your child’s language flourish when we acknowledge their echolalia and communication, provide them necessary sensory and physical supports, and follow their lead.
Allie Barrett, M.S., CCC-SLP, NLA Trained Clinician specializes in working with children who communicate using delayed echolalia and scripts. She utilizes the Natural Language Acquisition framework to guide her therapy sessions and follows the child’s lead to promote language development. She is passionate about using the child’s natural environment and coaching parents and caregivers on how to be the best “at-home therapist” for their child!