Things you may notice in the later stages of gestalt language development

Apr 24, 2024

There are some common things you may notice as a parent or professional supporting a child that is moving into or is currently in the later stages of gestalt language development. Stages 4+ is when a child is mainly using flexible, self-generated language. Some examples of what you may notice include still using the earlier stages to communicate at times (gestalts, mitigated or trimmed down gestalts), disfluency, beginning grammar, etc. While these may seem concerning, we’re here to assure you, they often are not! However, we always encourage you to get curious about what you’re noticing, and to be open to making changes to best support the child if needed. 

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 might notice in Stages 4+?

  • You might still hear delayed echolalia or mitigated gestalts. We always say, once a gestalt language processor, always a gestalt language processor. Even when gestalt language processors are mainly in Stages 4+ and self-generating language, they will still pick up and use gestalts. This doesn’t change when they’re mainly in Stages 4+. This may be for a number of reasons, some of the most common reasons we see, or we have heard from adult gestalt language processors are: 
    • They can’t access their original, flexible language. This might happen due to moments of dysregulation, sickness, fatigue or heightened emotions. If you’re noticing that these may be the reason why the child is using the earlier stages to communicate, we encourage you to get curious about how you can best support them. 
    • They may also use gestalts for vocal play, stimming and because communicating with gestalts might bring them joy! 
  • They are able to tell you where gestalts are from. In the earlier stages, a gestalt language processor may not be able to tell you where a gestalt is from because they are using language verbatim in Stage 1, and mitigated/trimmed down gestalts in stage 2. They may not have the language to tell you where  gestalt is from, and their responses to questions are not always reliable. This is why we recommend eliminating questions until Stages 4+. Once they start moving into the later stages and self-generating language, they may now be able to tell you where they picked up a gestalt.
    • 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. Gestalt language processors aren't ready to answer questions reliably until they’re self-generating phrases and sentences in Stages 4+. Now that they’re in the later stages, their responses are more reliable and responding to questions is easier now that their language is more flexible. 
    • Example:
      • Therapist: "Who was the story about?"
        Child: "It about Paddington"
  • They are producing utterances with beginning grammar. Beginning grammar is the hallmark of Stage 4. When we start to hear this, it is an exciting time! Examples: 
    • "No, she don't"
    • "She have his boots"
  • They are showing signs of disfluency, scripts are fluent but original language sounds disfluent. Many parents and professionals are concerned when they hear disfluency, but it is very common and often nothing to concerned about. This means the "wheels are turning" and is often not a sign that the child is beginning to stutter. 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 starting to combine freed words to express a self-generated idea. 
    • 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. Again, the wheels are turning! They are trying to find those words they’ve isolated and start to combine them in ways they often haven’t before! 
    • Example: 
      • ""

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. We just released a new FREE masterclass on echolalia and child-led therapy that is perfect for anyone starting their learning journey or on the fence about purchasing our courses! 
  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. Looking for something shorter? We have a 1-hour introductory course perfect for extended family, daycare or school staff.
  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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