Why we avoid sentence strips with gestalt language processors

Jul 12, 2023

Sentence strips are visuals that are often used in traditional speech therapy to prompt carrier phrases using a cloze procedure/fill-in-the-blank format such as: "I want ____", "I need ____", "Can I have ____", etc. When used in language therapy, they aim to increase a child's vocabulary, increase their length of utterance and target grammatical goals, etc. They're taught with the expectation that the language be used by the child. While this may be effective with analytic language processors, they are not appropriate for gestalt language processors.

For example: 

Why should we avoid sentence strips?

  • They promote taught language. The use of carrier phrases and sentence strips is direct teaching which would result in the utterance made by the child to not be scored in NLA language samples. We only score naturally acquired language when scoring using the Natural Language Acquisition framework. The language acquired through sentence strips is not picked up by the child because it is meaningful to them but rather, the language is taught with the expectation it be used by the child. 
  • Most gestalt language processors pick up language just from hearing it. Gestalt language processors do not need visuals of carrier phrases or sentence strips to pick up language (*Note: We are not talking about AAC here). They can listen to the language in their environment, process, and use those gestalts that are meaningful to them! An exception to this is if the child is hyperlexic. If you're going to provide written language models, these should be whole phrase text-based models (not carrier phrases/fill-in-the-blank) modeled without expectation. 
  • The carrier phrases become tough to "unglue". Oftentimes these carrier phrases take a while for gestalt language processors to learn. Once they eventually do, the carrier phrases become tough to unglue as the GLP begins to move through the stages. The carrier phrases become overgeneralized and are often used in a "robotic" way attached to language where it doesn't necessarily fit. 
    • For example, you’ll often hear gestalt language processors who have a history of traditional therapy using carrier phrases and sentence strips attaching “I want” to many of their utterances. 
  • The goals often targeted with sentence strips aren't appropriate. Early stage gestalt language processors do not need to increase vocabulary, length of utterance, or target grammar. Stage 1 gestalt language processors need more gestalts. Our goal is to increase the amount and variety of mitigable (easy to mix and match or trim down) gestalts that they are spontaneously using to communicate. Our goal in stage 2 is to increase the mitigations of stage 1 gestalts the child is using. We support these goals through whole phrase naturalistic language models without expectation. 
  • May result in prompt dependence. This is when a child waits for a visual, auditory or verbal cue/prompt to initiate communication. Many gestalt language processors become prompt dependent due to traditional speech therapy strategies such as carrier phrases, sentence strips or cloze procedure formats. These children struggle with spontaneous communication of any kind. We may not even hear gestalts from children who are gestalt language processors. You may end up hearing immediate echolalia and rote/taught responses.  

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

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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