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Does your child repeat (echo) things you say or script to communicate?  Do they repeat questions, books, movies, or TV, but have a hard time producing their own novel language?  

Are they dependent on being prompted by others to communicate?  Have you tried various therapies and have not seen improvement? 

If this sounds like your child, they may be a gestalt language processor!  


We all know about the "typical" way children learn language, but there is a second way that some children learn language called gestalt language development. 

Gestalt language development is common among children, and has predictable steps just like "typical" language development.  


Gestalt language processors (GLP) memorize language in chunks (e.g., phrases, scripts) and focus on intonation (pitch, rhythm) rather than words.  A GLP may memorize a phrase (we call these phrases "gestalts") using the exact pitch, cadence and rhythm as the original speaker used.  GLPs often say things they have heard others say, from TV, songs, books, or videos, and use them during times that are not appropriate to context. 



A parent asked their child, "what did you do today at school?"

The child responds by saying, "to infinity and beyond!" 

This child has attributed his/her own meaning to the phrase "to infinity and beyond," and they want their parent to know that they had a great day.  


Most gestalts (chunks of language or scripts) are also tied to an emotional experience/memory for GLPs.  Most kids who develop language in the "typical" way (analytic language processors) will say "car" and then when they have stored enough single words, later say "red car" and then eventually "go red car."  GLPs on may hear someone say, "Get in the car!" and that's what they say every time they see a car (or any other vehicle).  Natural Language Acquisition is the framework developed by Marge Blanc (based off of Ann Peters' and Barry Prizant's research in 1983) and is used to guide us in helping a child move from echolalia to self-generated (autonomous) language.


Marge Blanc describes the 6 primary stages of language development for GLPs in Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: A journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language (Marge Blanc, 2012). These stages are summarized below, with two ongoing examples to illustrate the progression. 



The gestalt/phrase is stated the same way every time without any change.


"Not right now hunny" (child says this when they are requesting someone to help them because mom said this phrase when child pulled on mom's shirt)

"Yummy yum yum" (child says this when they want a snack)

"Do you want more?" (child says when they want more of something)

"We're running late get in the car" (child says this when he wants to go somewhere)


Partial or recombined gestalts.


"Not right now yummy" ("not right now" + "yummy" - child wants help getting a snack)

"Not want more" ("not" + "want more" - child wants help getting more)

"We're running late McDonalds" ("we're running late" + "McDonalds" - child wants to go to McDonalds)


Isolated single words.


"yummy" (snack)


"hunny" (referring to mom)



Beginning self-generated sentences and grammar.


"We running McDonalds" (child wants to go to McDonalds)

Katherine is an expert practitioner in Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) therapy and offers coaching services to other professionals or parents.

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