Tell Me About Gestalt Language Processing ...and Why Does it Matter?
As a Speech Therapist, I see many children weekly to address their language needs. Many families come to our clinic with the concern that their child is not using language.
The Speech therapist will of course complete an assessment, determine the best treatment plan, and therapy services begin.
It is important to determine at that assessment...What type of language processor is the child? Did you know there are different ways children process language? And it is incredibly important that they are SUPPORTED in their language development.
Let' dive in a bit more.
If we were to define language, one source says, "Language, a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves"
Notice language is not just VERBAL, but a form of communication with multiple ways to get the message across. This is why speech therapists will often encourage sign language, gestures, pictures, speech generating devices, signing and more methods to communicate.
Language acquisition in most children happens with learning and acquiring single words as units first followed by combining them into sentences. This style is called analytical processing. Here - the child thinks about the the statements they hear, breaking them into single words.
Many children (specifically Autistic children) will utilize a different language acquisition style, known as Gestalt Language Processing style (GLP). The internal structure of a statement doesn’t make as much sense to children who are Gestalt Processors. Instead, they acquire language as chunks or scripts. For them, the smallest unit of comprehension is not words. Even if they use single words, they may have difficulty in combining them with other words in a meaningful way. There are 6 levels to discuss when it comes to GLPs.
Is this confusing? Let's look at some examples!
6 Levels of GLP
Echolalia: E.g.Mom says, "You want a cookie?", Child, "You want a cookie"
Mitigated Echolalia: (mixing in different echolalia phrases), "Use of partial gestalts. E.g, "Let’s get” + “more cookie” = “Let’s get more cookies!”
Isolation of the Single Word: e.g .(1) “Let’s get” + “wanna get” = “get”
Self-generated language: moving beyond the words they pick up from others and forming their original sentences and language: e.g. “I get.” “Get more no.” “No get some.”
Making sense and usage of simple grammar in communication
Making sense and usage of complex grammar in communication
How to Support these Children
The first step is to make the child feel acknowledged. Even if we don’t understand anything, we should initiate acknowledgement by nodding, smiling and repeating what they said. There is an extra layer of information beneath the Echolalia that we need to decode. While it might seem meaningless or repetitive to us, there is a meaning in those repetitions.
We should encourage and continue interaction through comments, affirmations and reflective questions as opposed to commands, prompts and wh- questions. This approach has proven to mix/add to Echolalia. Instead of controlling the interaction and expecting a specific response, we should aim to let the child initiate and lead the conversation.. This might feel frustrating at first but try to be patient - language will come!
AAC (Augmentative and alternative forms of communication) - Don't be afraid to try other modes of communication outside of verbal responses.
Speech-language therapy with an SLP that understands Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) can help your child feel les stuck and begin to generate their own novel phrases and sentences! (Keep in mind, this can be a way of processing for Neurotypical and/or Neurodiverse populations).
Thank you for reading - learn more about GLP through the sources below.
Cynthia Knighton , MS, CCC-SLP
Founder of Speech For Success