Music and Gestalt Language Processing

Jun 21, 2023

Children who communicate with delayed echolalia (gestalt language processors) are often very musical. Many children who are not using mouth words, or are mislabeled as nonspeaking can sing songs. This is because gestalt language processors are “intonation babies”. Their first unit of language is intonation which means that they pick up on intonation first. Song melodies can naturally become first gestalts for that reason. 

So how can we support musical gestalt language processors?

    • Start by using music and modeling songs! Model songs for the child if they’re in stage 1 and need more gestalts. Model new gestalts with musical intonation. Here are some examples of songs that have become gestalts for some of our clients. 
      • “It’s raining” (from It’s raining, It’s pouring song) 
      • “We’re going on a bear hunt” (from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt song) 
      • “Clean up” (from “The Clean Up” song) 
      • “The Wheels on the Bus” (from Wheels on the Bus song) 
      • “Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” (from 5 Little Monkeys song) 
      • “I wonder” (from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star song) 
  • Consider perfect pitch. Something important to note is that many gestalt language processors also have “perfect pitch”. For this reason, they may not allow you to sing songs to them. This doesn’t mean we have to give up on using music to support them. Instead of being the one to sing the song, you might consider playing audio or videos of songs. 
  • Incorporate musical instruments. Along with singing, consider bringing in musical instruments to your sessions or your home. This adds more excitement and fun to the songs you’re singing and modeling.  
  • Acknowledge all musical gestalts. If a child picks up a song or part of a song as a first gestalt, we want to do the same as we would with other gestalts. Acknowledge all communication by head nodding, smiling or repeating what the child said and trying to do the detective work to find out what the songs mean to them. Remember, gestalts are rarely literal and they’re often tied to a meaningful experience!
  • Consider music therapy. Music therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses therapeutic music experiences to support skill development. They use music to address physical, emotional, social, cognitive and diverse communication needs in individuals of all ages. Music inherently has patterns that make it easy for children to decode and pick up as first gestalts. 
  • Mitigations with songs. If the child is ready for stage 2, introduce mitigations with small changes to song lyrics. 
    • For example: “The wheels on the bike” (from Wheels on the Bus song)

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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