What is Gestalt Language?

What is Gestalt Language Processing?

Gestalt Language Processing: a form of language development that moves from whole, memorized phrases to single words. 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.

NLA Stages (Blanc, 2012; Zachos 2021)

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

Download free handouts to help explain this style of language development. You can find them receive them via email.

Free Gestalt Language Handouts

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    Also, I now have a larger set of No Prep, No Print handouts for gestalt language that you can buy directly here or in my TpT store.



    • Hello! What did IEP goals for this look like? I am having trouble figuring out a measurable way to track data for stages 2-3.

      • This is a challenging question. Overall- for now- I’ve seen it written in the “Present Level” section, then broadly addressed as part of language development goals. I agree, it’s challenging to figure out a way to measure this other than to document the % of utterances the child is producing in each stage. Showing that the percentage has increased moving from 2-3 would be an indication of progress.

      • I’d love to seeeeee some “examples” as well! No, they absolutely did not teach this in years past! However, now that we know better, we can do better, right? =0)

        • Definitely check out Meaningful Speech on Instagram. Marge Blanc has a Facebook group. I share real examples from my home at Ausome Speech on Instagram.

    • This sounds so much like my daughter. I had a hard time explaining how she was scripting from tv shows rather than learning language like her siblings. This is exactly what she does.

      • It’s so fascinating…and follows a developmental pattern. I bet she is a joy. ❤️

    • Hi, are there any resources to help older kids? tweens and teens? My son (15) has communication issues, specially trying to share experiences, he clearly wants to, but then he goes “never mind, mom”
      But he talks just fine, he is a decent reader(as long there are no long paragraphs, 2 sentences together is ok), he does use a lot of sentences from movies and videos he watches. How can I help him? I too am autistic, but I am a chatter box and pretty good with words in two languages…help!
      By the way his first sentence was “look mommy, a rainbow” he was 4 🙂

      • What a great question. I’d be curious as to what might be causing the difficulty in sharing the experience: is it difficulty with language or is it social anxiety? You could consider finding an SLP with knowledge of neurodivergent students…or possibly a practitioner to work through social anxiety if it could be related to that. It might be both difficult to tell and difficult for your child to express. It’s great that you want to help in whatever way you can. Some older kids do well with scenarios that allow them to memorize phrases to “get them going” if they are stuck and cannot find the words to express what they want to say.

    • The detective work is so important! I’ve used this in my practice and it really helps learn more about the child’s intent behind their communication.


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    My name is Elizabeth Hepler and I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005.  I am the mother of four great kids. Our household is neurodiverse: ADHD, Autism, Gifted, and more!

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