What is Gestalt Language Processing?
Gestalt Language Processing: a form of language development that moves from whole, memorized phrases to single words. It’s estimated that between 75-90% of Autistic children develop language through NLA. (Prizant & Rydell, 1984; Blanc 2012). These scripts or Gestalts come from movies, videos, and things overheard and memorized. A style of language development with predictable stages that begins with production of multi-word “gestalt forms” and ends with production of novel utterances. (ASHA 2021)
Delayed Echolalia: utterances that are repeated after a significant delay (Prizant & Rydell, 1984). Echolalia is prevalent among individuals with ASD who are verbal and may remain as part of their verbal behavior for some time (Fay, 1969).
Naturalistic Language Acquisition (NLA): a framework developed by Marge Blanc to move from delayed echolalia to self-generated speech. (Blanc 2012).
Analytic Language Acquisition (ALA): a form of language development that moves from single words to sentences. This it the most common type of language development. (Prizant & Rydell, 1984).
Anecdotes from my Household
☃️ “Do you want to build a snowman?” Lucas, age 6 standing near a window putting on gloves. His siblings playing outside.
✔️This was a stage 1 Gestalt in Natural Language Acquisition.
📚 Even though I already had more than a decade of experience as an SLP under my belt, I had no idea what NLA or Gestalts were. Our doctors and therapists wanted me to do this and that…and my Mom-gut said “NO.”
❓ Why did this feel wrong? When he was Anna…I became Elsa. I didn’t pull out a sentence strip and parrot “I Want Snowman”…. I said “Go away, Anna….” And he smiled SO big. He looked me right in the eye like “you get it!” Alexandria (@meaningfulspeech calls this “bingo eye contact”).
👁 Sometimes autistic children make better eye contact than me…when I’ve found a way into their world. When I’ve recognized their interests. When I’ve stopped trying to force things.
❄️ So I shared that my son is a Gestalt Language Processor. I’m going to keep sharing about that…because I think we all might need some real life examples (including me).
❓Why was Lucas inside while his siblings were outside?
❌ “No like a snow.” For Lucas, this was a stage 4 gestalt. It sounds immature, but in hindsight….this was exciting. It was an original sentence. He thought of it. It was grammatically incorrect, so I know it was his own self-generated speech.
☃️ So now, Lucas and I stay inside when it snows, unless he tells me otherwise.
I have a lot of un-therapy to do. Our gestalts are all over the map. Varying day to day. I didn’t know what I was doing….and his team didn’t know about NLA either. Why should they? No one taught us this in school!
🤩 We had an IEP meeting yesterday. Gestalt Language Processing with specific examples was written into his IEP for the first time. His amazing SLP researched and came up with a better explanation in writing than I could have done. Don’t be afraid to let your child’s team know. A good team will research and put it on there.
✔️ I listed NLA and wrote goals for moving through stages on a medical POC this week. The plan was approved by Medicaid. Don’t be afraid to start doing this. The research is there…and it’s the right thing to do.
What do Gestalt Language Processors Need from Speech Therapy?
Speech therapists need to learn ways to help children move from stage 1 to stage 4. We can do this by modeling and teaching lots of scripts, until they are able to be mitigated. You can learn more about this from the Naturalistic Language Course put together by Alexandria Zachos of Meaningful Speech.
For me, the saddest mitigation I’ve heard from my own child was “I’m working for dinner.” This likely meant “I’m hungry”. Because he’s been conditioned to do this by someone who is working with him, he carried it into the home setting and used it as a way to communicate to me that he was hungry. This is an example of a Stage 2 mitigation. “I’m working for + dinner”.
As a Mom, the best way for me to help with this at home is to state “I’m hungry” when I’m hungry, as a model, a script, a Gestalt. I can also provide this language when my son says something like this. It’s a little painful to think that along the way, someone has made him feel that he has to work for everything. Sometimes we have to un-therapize; that may or may not be a word…but it should be.
More Information on NLA and Gestalt Language
Take the Echolalia Course by Meaningful Speech (this was a game changer for me!)
Check out Marge Blanc’s Book: Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum
Follow Meaningful Speech on Instagram