Gestalt Language Processor

Is My Child a Gestalt Language Processor?

Is My Child a Gestalt Language Processor?

Children learn and develop language in two different ways. There are two ways of learning language namely, analytic and gestalt styles. This article will help you identify “Is My Child a Gestalt Language Processor?”.

It is crucial for every parent to know which style their child is following. Further, some kids process language analytically or follow gestalt or a mix of the two. Why should you know this?

If you know which way of processing your child is using, it’ll help you understand your child’s communication. Furthermore, it’ll help you identify the best ways to support their communication.

Analytic versus Gestalt Language Processing

Analytic language processing is where the child learns the meanings of single words. Then, he/she combines these single words to make 2–3-word combinations. Finally, speaks to them in a meaningful context. In other words, learning is from parts-whole / words–phrases.

Gestalt language processing is where the child memorizes chunks of phrases first. Then, he/she processes backward and learns the meaning of words in the phrase. Further, these children develop language in phrases rather than single words. Learning is from whole-parts / phrases – words. Furthermore, this is in the form of delayed or immediate echolalia. So, the child imitates what he/she previously heard. Over a period of time, the child learns to mix and match these phrases to make new sentences.

Note: Some Autistic people follow the gestalt language processing method. So, if your child is Autistic, this article can help you understand their communication better.

Let’s look at some examples:

Analytic language processor

The child says “water” or “go” when he/she wants to drink water or wants to go outside. Here the child understands the word and is using it in context.

Gestalt language processor

Your child says “wheels on the bus”, every time the family gets ready to go outside. Your child learned this phrase from the rhyme they heard “wheels on the bus”. So, they associate this phrase with going outside. Your child may not understand each word in the phrase since they memorized it as a chunk. Overall, the child echoes or says phrases they heard in rhymes, songs, or people speaking in their environment.

Signs of Gestalt Language Processing

Here are a few red flags that indicate your child may be a gestalt language processor,

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • A child is Autistic or belongs to the neurodiverse population
  • Learns to speak in phrases rather than in words
  • Speaks in phrases taken from rhymes/ songs
  • Echoes rhymes or numbers to communicate
  • Says long strings of unintelligible phrases
  • Sings or uses rich intonation while communicating
  • Says phrases that may sound non-meaningful in contexts
  • Language use is restricted and situational
  • Uses delayed or immediate echolalia
  • Communicates as echolalia or as scripts
  • May mix up pronouns while speaking
  • Hyperlexic

If your child is a gestalt language processor, consult a Speech-Language Therapist to support their development.

Stages of Gestalt Language Processing

Children who are GLPs go through six stages while learning the language. So, identify which stage your child is at to help them support better.

Stage 1

Echolalia: child speaks in delayed or immediate echolalia.

Stage 2

Mitigated Gestalts: child uses mix and match of echolalia chunks to make phrases

Stage 3

Isolation and combination of single words: Here the child says isolated words without grammar.

Stage 4

Self-generated phrases and simple sentences: the child has meaningful words and simple grammar

Stage 5

Self-generated sentences used in everyday situations: the child’s language has more advanced grammar at the sentence level

Stage 6

Self-generated sentences used in more complex situations: language consists of sophisticated grammar

Overall, work along with your speech-language therapist to identify which stage your child belongs to. Then, support your child to develop further communication.

Tips to Remember
  • Not every child is a gestalt language processor
  • Children can use a mix of analytic or gestalt language processing
  • Every child is at a different stage of language learning
  • Children may take time to progress from one stage to another in GLP.
  • Support your child’s communication skills by following their lead.

What scientific research says about GLP?

Several researchers around the world are constantly working to study gestalt language processing in Autistics. One of the first studies was done by Prizant in 1983 on communicative behaviors in Autism. His study reviews autistic communication such as echolalia as gestalt cognitive processing. He stresses the importance of reconsidering echolalic behaviors, patterns of social interaction, and patterns of cognitive-linguistic development in Autism.

Further, another study done by Manning et al, in 1989 describes language-learning patterns in echolalic children. They talk in-depth about the gestalt language processing in Autistics. They also discuss how assessment and intervention can be done if the child is a GLP.

Furthermore, Westby, 2012 studied language processing in Autistics and said there is a high possibility they process language as gestalts

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Ayesha Anjum
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