Signs a Gestalt Language Processor is Self-generating language

Jul 19, 2023

We talk a lot about the early stages of gestalt language development, so you might be wondering how you’ll know if/when a child is using self-generated language? There are some signs you can look for that will help you determine if language is self-generated. 

First, Let’s review the stages of Gestalt Language Development

Stage 1: Delayed Echolalia 

Scripting whole gestalts, single word gestalts, and/or intonationally defined strings of language from people, media, songs or books.

Example: "There's a monster at the end of the book!" 

Stage 2: Mix and Match Stage or “Trimming down” (Partial Gestalts)

Mitigating larger Stage 1 gestalts into smaller chunks and also mixing and matching parts/chunks of Stage 1 gestalts into semi-unique utterances.

Examples #1 (mixing of two partial gestalts): "There's a monster + under there" = There's a monster under there.

Example #2 (Trimming down): "There's a monster."

Stage 3: Single Words and Two-Word Combinations– This is the magic stage where gestalt language processors are starting to recognize single words as individual units of meaning. They’re beginning to self-generate single words and two-word noun combinations. 

Breaking gestalts down to one word unit and/or making a new two-word noun combinations (noun + noun, noun + adjective, with no regard for word order).

Example: "monster", "scary monster", "monster red"

Stages 4-6: New Original Phrases or Sentences with Beginning Grammar, More Advanced and Complex Grammar – This is when gestalt language processors are when they’re beginning to use self-generated phrases and sentences starting with beginning grammar and moving on to more advanced and eventually complex sentences. 

Putting word units together to make novel phrases or sentences. At Stage 4, children are using beginning grammar. At stages 5-6, children begin using advanced and complex grammar.

Examples: “The monster goed under” (Stage 4) “The monster can’t get out” (Stage 5), “Shouldn’t he have come out from under the bed by now?” (Stage 6).

So what are some signs to look for that indicate your gestalt language processor is in stage 4+?

  • They are able to tell you where gestalts are from.
    • Example: 
      • Child: I'm not a squirrel, I'm a young prince.
        Therapist: Where's that from?
        Child: Yea, we saw this movie. Bambi. 
  • They are beginning to easily answer wh-questions.
    • Example:
      • Therapist: "Who was the story about?"
         Child: "It about Paddington"
  • They are producing utterances with beginning grammar.
    • Examples: 
      • "No, she don't"
      • "She have his boots"
  • They are showing signs of disfluency, scripts are fluent but original language sounds disfluent.
    • This means the "wheels are turning" and NOT that the child has a new problem- stuttering! They are reaching for their "freed" words to create a novel utterance!
    • Example: 
      • "Th th th that one over there"
      •  "Thhhhat game is fun!"
  • They are producing utterances that "don't make sense" to the unfamiliar listener (they are combining freed words to express an idea, it is self-generated).
    • Example:
      • "Now his boots on, so we don't have any shoes." (What the child meant: We are ready to go- boots are on and we don't need get on anything else!) 
  • They have pauses between words and taking more time to generate what they want to say.
    • Example: 
      • ""

You might hear some or all of this when a gestalt language processor begins self-generating language. All of these are perfectly normal when children begin to communicate in stage 4 and they are not cause for concern! Listening and taking language samples is the best way to figure out what stage a child is mainly in. Gestalt language processors can communicate in a mix of stages BUT we want to figure out and support them in their main stage.

How do we support a child when they’re mainly in Stages 4+?

Stage 4 is when we begin to support grammar. Up until this point (Stages 1-3), we’re not worried about grammar at all. We choose grammar targets based on the Developmental Sentence Types and Developmental Sentence Scoring by Laura Lee. Therapy looks the same in these stages as it did in the earlier stages. We’re not correcting the child’s grammar directly. We’re modeling grammar targets naturally. We’re still using child-led therapy. If you want to learn more about how to support gestalt language processors in the early stages check out this blog post (link previous blog). Stages 4+ is when we can begin to support other goals outside of expressive language. For example, we may begin to target storytelling/narratives, problem solving and asking and answering WH questions.

Gestalt language processors will always be gestalt language processors

What do we mean by this? Even when gestalt language processors are mainly in Stages 4+ and self-generating language, they will still pick up and use gestalts. Gestalt language processors will always be gestalt language processors. This doesn’t change when they’re mainly in Stages 4+. Many adult gestalt language processors have shared that they pick up gestalts and use them when they can’t access their original, flexible language. This might happen due to moments of dysregulation or heightened emotions. They also use gestalts for vocal play, stimming and because communicating with gestalts might bring them joy!

Want to learn more in-depth information about how to support gestalt language processors?

  1. There are many free podcasts, webinars and articles to get you started. A comprehensive list of resources can also be found on our website and Communication Development Center's website. 
  2. Consider taking the Meaningful Speech course to learn more about how your child or client processes language, how you can help support them from echolalia to self-generated (original flexible) language, child-led therapy, and neurodiversity-affirming practices. 
  3. Consider taking our AAC + Gestalt Language Processing course . It will teach you how to identify, evaluate and support gestalt language processors who use AAC or who you think might benefit from AAC.
  4. Look for a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who "gets it" and can help you in supporting your child's language development. Check out our registry. for SLPs who understand gestalt language processing and child-led therapy.
  5. Are you a school-based or private practice clinician looking for intake forms for new clients/students or creative visual reminder posters for your space? Check out the Meaningful Speech Marketplace.
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