By Josie Mlynarski, SLP Graduate Student


Have you ever heard of Gestalt Language Processing?


Typically, when we think of language development, we are speaking in terms of analytic language processing, which is the process of building language from small units (words) to larger units (phrases and sentences). There is a recent shift in our field to consideration a different way to learn language, called Gestalt Language Processing. Gestalt Language Processing refers to acquisition of larger units (scripted phrases and sentences), progressing to one’s ability to break apart those chunks of language into smaller units (words), and then eventually learning to re-combine words into one’s own self-generated language. 


How do I know if my child is a gestalt language processor?


Your child may be a gestalt language processor if they are using:

  • long scripts usually learned from stories, TV shows, movies, phrases from others, etc.
  • strings of language that is not easily understandable or may sound jumbled
  • singsong-like intonation while speaking
  • your child may develop mostly single words, but may not be able to combine them into 2–3-word phrases

Gestalt language processors may also have difficulty progressing in traditional therapy and may be “stuck” at lower-level language abilities. We can also identify signs of possible gestalt language processing in non-speaking children.


Using Natural Language Acquisition to learn the language


Natural Language Acquisition is a language developmental process used with children who are gestalt language processors. During early language development, gestalt language processors process language in whole chunks, like strings of words that can be script-like, rather than single words to combine new and varying sentences.

Natural Language Acquisition follows four stages of language development:

  1. Echolalia – This is the stage where scripting makes up the bulk of language. These can include whole phrases and words (also known as gestalts) that are said the same way as they were heard, such as, “He needs our help!” from a familiar TV show. Often these types of utterances are seen as meaningless or random to those who are unfamiliar, but echolalia is a valid form of functional language as some children may use different phrases or words for different situations or emotions.
  2. Mitigation – When the gestalts in Stage 1 are broken apart and pieces are used in combination with other gestalts, this is known as mitigation. With the gestalt “He needs our help!”, a child who is a gestalt language processor could now take part of that phrase and combine it with a word like “mommy”, forming a new phrase, “Mommy needs our help!”.
  3. Single words and two-word combinations – During this stage, gestalt language processors start to combine single words pulled from various gestalts in order to create a new phrase, such as “Mommy help” when needing assistance.
  4. Original phrases/sentences with beginning grammar – This stage is very similar to Stage 3, but the words pulled from various gestalts are now strung together to make even longer phrases and sentences, such as “Mommy help me please!”

Some gestalt language processors move through these stages independently and others may need support through speech therapy.

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Is your child struggling to generate his or her own language?  Think your child might be a gestalt language processor in need of support? Our speech team is trained in gestalt language processing and we would be happy to help! 

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