What is gestalt language processing?
Children who use echolalia are ‘gestalt language processors,’ meaning they process early language in ‘whole’ strings of sounds, or ‘chunks’, rather than processing single words. Gestalt language processors are not limited to children on the autism spectrum. In fact, many neurotypical children begin acquiring language as gestalts, these are also referred to as “scripts”.
But what is Echolalia?
Echolalia is the immediate or delayed repetition of language which means some kids copy what they’ve heard. They may copy words right after they hear them, or they might remember something they’ve heard before and use it later. Some echolalia isn’t intended to send a direct message to someone, such as when a child plays alone and recites lines from a video. However, much of children’s echolalia is communicative and has a purpose.
How do I help my gestalt language processor at home?
Be a detective!
- Listen to your child’s spontaneous language and try to figure out the intent of their statements
- Use facial expressions, gaze, and gestures that accompany the utterance as clues
- Is there a common setting or scenario that this utterance appears?
Create opportunities for your child to comment spontaneously. Avoid prompts and a lot of direct questions regarding the gestalt or script.
Acknowledge the gestalt. Repeat it back to your child, add a word to the utterance, or respond how from the child’s point of view.
Ex: a parent asks their child “Do you want some water?” and the child responds with “the fish swims in the water”.
In this scenario, the child could be relating the question to a familiar phrase or movie, but the most important thing to note is that the child was responding to the question in his own way! The parent could then analyze their child’s body language and model either “I want some water” or “I don’t want some water” without placing a demand on the child of responding.
Remember! Gestalt language processing is not simply learning functional phrases, it is about language development! Each gestalt has a purpose, they are trying to communicate with you!