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Gestalt Language Processing

“I’ve Been Told my Child is a Gestalt Language Processor! What do I do now?”

Understanding language processing in children is a complex and multi-faceted experience that starts developing in early childhood. It involves not just the understanding of words and grammar but also the perception of sound, vision, and social cues.

Gestalt Language Processing (GLP), also referred to as the Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) framework. GLP refers to how children perceive and organize language based on patterns and relationships, rather than isolated words or phrases. Gestalt language processing has emerged as a crucial component of language development in autistic children, yet it remains lesser-known among the general public.

What is Gestalt Language Processing?

Gestalt Language Processing (GLP) is a valid form of communication where language is acquired through meaningful chunks or delayed echolalia. Delayed echolalia happens when someone uses messages heard in the past and repeats those messages. These messages may have been learned minutes, days, weeks, and months ago. In our field, there has been a common misconception that these chunks or scripts do not hold meaning, but they do!

Holding Hands
Playing with toy
Gestalt Language Processing in Autism

Most autistic children are likely gestalt language processors, however, both neurotypical and neurodivergent children can develop language in this way. There are six stages of gestalt language development, and although some may require support across all stages, some children may not. Just like analytic language processors, gestalt language processors can also be delayed in their language development.

Research suggests that gestalt and configural processing may be areas of strength for some autistic children, providing a unique window into their cognitive and learning potential, if harnessed effectively. Understanding and addressing gestalt language processing is therefore key to empowering autistic children.

How do I know my child is a Gestalt Language Processor?

There are a few things that can help us determine if a child is a gestalt language processor, including:

Long Scripts & Echolalia Long Scripts & Echolalia
Rich intonation Rich intonation
Unintelligible & Long Strings of Language Unintelligible & Long Strings of Language
Single Words Single Words

These are all forms of valid communication, let’s honor them! Your child is still communicating with you and that should always be acknowledged, we must validate and honor any communicative intent!

What are the stages of gestalt language development?

Curious to learn more about the six stages of gestalt language development? CLICK HERE

Strategies and Interventions

There are several ways parents, educators, and therapists can support gestalt language processing in young children. Firstly, it is essential to expose children to rich linguistic input that contains diverse sentence structures, vocabulary, and contextual cues.

Speech & language therapy can be particularly effective in targeting gestalt language processing difficulties. Making sure your speech language pathologist (SLP) is trained in Gestalt language processing is very important when supporting your child.

When a child is found to be a gestalt language processor, the clinicians’ therapy approach should change! The therapist will change to a Naturalistic Language Acquisition (NLA) approach to therapy. The goal of this approach is for the child to begin understanding that words hold individual meanings.

What’s next?

Gestalt language processing is not considered a disorder, it is just considered a style of processing and learning language. It’s important to use the strengths of children to empower their voices.

It is incredibly important for all members of your child’s service team (i.e. occupational therapists, physical therapists, teachers, paras, ABA therapists, family members, etc.) to also be on board with shaping their therapy style around this communication approach.

If your child is autistic or you suspect your child is a GLP, seek out a therapist trained in Gestalt Language Processing or find one knowledgeable of it. At Valued Voices our team of SLP’s are NLA/GLP trained, including our occupational therapists.

The journey of language development is as unique as the children themselves, and by fostering an environment of understanding, patience, and tailored support, we set the stage for growth and success.


19782 MacArthur, Irvine, CA 92612
Suite 310 – Speech & Language Therapy
Suite 315 – Occupational Therapy
T: (949) 929-9248 | F: 949.209.2059
[email protected]

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