Gestalt Language Processor and Natural Language Acquisition

Most of the time when we think of language development, we think of “Analytical Language Development.” This involves babbling, using single words, combining words into short phrases, and eventually using complete sentences. But did you know there is another way to develop language called “Natural Language Acquisition?” Natural Language Acquisition, a word coined by Marg Blanc in 2012, is a natural way to acquire language in Gestalt Language Processors (GLPs). Rather than starting with babbling and single words, GLPs start with entire chunks of language and over time become more flexible with their language until they begin to use their own spontaneous language. Natural Language Acquisition is broken up into six main stages that are outlined below:

Stage 1: Using gestalts (whole chunks of language) to communicate
Stage 2: Mixing and matching Stage 1 gestalts to create semi-unique phrases
Stage 3: Unlocking single words and using 1-2 word phrases
Stage 4: Beginning grammar – original statements with beginning grammar
Stage 5&6: Using complex grammar in original sentences

Signs a child might be a Gestalt Language Processor

– Uses immediate or delayed echolalia. Echolalia is when a child directly imitates something they hear whether it be from a song, a show, a movie, or a phrase someone said to them. It may happen immediately or after a period of time. They may repeat single words, phrases, or even entire songs or tv episodes.

Rich Intonation. GLPs are often considered “intonation babies” due to the intonation they use in their speech. While it is not always intelligible, sometimes the intonation is enough to know where it is from. For example, think of the intonation we use when we say “To infinity and beyond.”

– Hearing long strings of unintelligible “jargon.” Because GLPs use phrases, sometimes very long phrases, their motor planning systems are not typically caught up with the language causing it to sound like “jargon” when instead it might be delayed echolalia from a movie or song.

What does speech therapy look like with a GLP?

A speech therapist will collect language samples to determine which stage the child is currently in. This determines the language the therapist will model throughout the session. When it comes to working with a gestalt language processor, there are a variety of therapeutic strategies to utilize.

Connection-based therapy: When there is a trusting relationship between a child and therapist, language development will flourish.

Child-led therapy: Therapy will focus on using the child’s interests to engage in play and create naturalistic opportunities to model language.

Validating ALL communication: Whether it’s intelligible, unintelligible, or echolalia, we acknowledge ALL communication.

Model variety: It is important to provide GLPs with gestalts for a variety of communicative functions such as commenting, requesting, transitioning, protesting, sharing joy, joint action routine, and sensory motor experiences.

Modeling language from the child’s point of view: Because many GLPs demonstrate echolalic speech, we want to make sure if they directly imitate the model, it will make sense. We often model phrases using the pronouns “let’s,” “we’re,” and “I.”

Rich intonation: GLPs are likely to use phrases that have a meaning attached to them. When we add rich intonation to our language models, they are more likely to repeat them.

Reduce questions/choices: Because GLPs often directly imitate models, they are likely to directly imitate the questions or choices we offer rather than answering or choosing. Instead, focus on declarative statements. For example, instead of stating “do you want help” we could model “I need some help”. 

We love learning about gestalt language processing and will continue to learn all the best ways 
we can best support our gestalt language processors! Here at Infinity Kids, we have several speech therapists that are currently in the process of more in-depth training! See additional resources below:

Natural language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum by Marge Blanc, M.A., CCC-SLP

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