New Year, New Approach

January 4, 2023 0 By Katie Sample

Gestalt Language Processing

Have you heard of a “Gestalt”? If you went to any sessions focusing on pediatric language processing for children with ASD or related disorders at 2022 ASHA Convention, “Gestalt Language Acquisiton” was the hot topic. ASHA defines it as “a style of language development with predictable stages that begins with production of multi-word “gestalt forms” and ends with production of novel utterances.” Gestalt forms are echolalic utterances. The process is building FUNCTIONAL and INDEPENDENT language from their gestalts! This has massive implications for Alternative AAC utilization. AAC is a powerful multimodal tool that can include their gestalts OR used in conjunction with their gestalt forms. Gestalt forms were first noted in ASD in the 1980s. Think of it as the building house for language for many of our friends with ASD. There are 4 stages of Gestalt Language Processing:

Black and white graphic of a movie reel



During this stage, the child uses memorized phrases. These phrases can be both immediate and delayed echolalic phrases. These can be tied to different emotions or experiences. Think of these as “chunks” rather than individual words. These are unanalyzed scripts. Learn more about echolalia here.

Example: “Let’s get out of here!” or “Want some more?”



During this stage, the child starts to break apart their gestalts then recombine them. They will start breaking gestalts into smaller phrases and recombining them in different ways. They are using previously learned words or phrases they used to make a new utterance. 

Example: “Want” and “out of here” to create: “Want out of here!”

blue, red, and yellow lego blocks03

Single Words

In this stage, the child can use single words as functional building blocks of language. This is when they truly understand the meaning of each individual word that they are using as it is not “superglued” together with other words such as an echolalic phrase. Now, words are being broken free from their echolalic scripts. We can also see a functional combination of words built together as they move into the next phrase. 

Example: “want” “here” “more get”

Clipart of multicolored balloons flying away04


In this stage, the child produces whole phrases. They are learning to use conventional grammar to build self-generated language. Since they are learning, we may see some grammatical errors. It is important to model in a way that one would typically model correct grammar for typically developing children as they are growing their skills. They are now creating their own unique sentences! 

Example: “Let’s get more” “I will get some more.”