An Alternative Way to Process Language

Did you know that some children and adults learn language in large units (sentences) rather than in small units (words)? When children acquire language in larger units, it is called Gestalt Language Acquisition. 

When gestalt language processors start to develop language, it is difficult to determine if they are babbling or if they are using words. It can be challenging for parents to determine because talking in larger units (sentences) decreases speech clarity.

Gestalt language processing occurs in children with and without disabilities. It is often seen in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Echolalia is common in children who are gestalt language processors. 

Why do some gestalt processors need speech therapy? It can be difficult for children who are gestalt language processors to break down the sentences they are using into individual words, which means their language is less flexible and spontaneous. Just because a child uses longer sentences does not mean they understand all the words, for gestalt processors 1 sentence= 1 word. 

What does treatment look like? Often, clinicians will begin by teaching individual word meanings, and can do this by using AAC. This can seem counterproductive at first to parents because their child is already speaking in sentences. It is important to remember that language needs to be flexible and spontaneous and to achieve this, we need to teach spontaneous use of single-word utterances first.