Themes & Gestalt Language Processing

Dec 13, 2023

Themed therapy is something that is often encouraged in the field of speech-language pathology. This is for a variety of reasons. Theming therapy around a season, holiday, topic or idea encourages many analytic language goals like increasing vocabulary, sentence building and other language goals like reading comprehension and problem solving. It also means less planning and preparation for sessions for speech-language pathologists that are used to creating adult-directed agendas for sessions.

However, when using themed therapy, we are assuming that all children will be interested in these themes and the corresponding adult-directed agenda. While some gestalt language processors might enjoy seasonally themed materials, it is misguided to assume that these prepped activities will be interesting for all. The best way to support gestalt language processors and get spontaneous language is by using child-led therapy. Following the child's lead and engaging in activities that bring them joy. Another great thing about child-led play is that it takes little to no planning at all for therapists. 

What do we recommend instead?

  • Take the pressure off yourself to make cute crafts and find the perfect materials. Interview parents, caregivers and staff about the child's special interests and how they spend their down time. Have the child's interests available (ex: toys, objects; room to move). 
  • Follow "2 familiar, 1 new" for child-led therapy. Always have 2 familiar toys/ objects/ activities the kid loves available. Bring in at least 1 "new to them" toy/ object/activity into the session. They may or may not be interested, but we are gently suggesting something NOT pushing it or directing them to engage with it. You might bring in themed items, but think of them only as suggestions. It is okay if the child shows no interest in those. We don’t want to set any expectations or adult-directed plans around these items.
  • Model language in a natural way during this child-led play. Adult directed activities lean toward compliance. We want to allow spontaneous language to emerge.
  • ​​Be a "detective" during sessions. Allow time where your focus is on being the best listener you can be (not on persevering through a planned activity)
    • What is this child interested in right now?
    • What message is this child trying to communicate at this moment?

So are we saying that themed items cannot be used at all with gestalt language processors? No. Some might be interested in these themed items. We are saying that these themed items should be brought in with no adult-directed agenda. If the child chooses to engage with those items or not, it is totally fine either way. The most important thing is to make sure we are following their lead and focusing on connection rather than compliance. As a therapist, you can also give yourself a break from feeling like you need to have the perfect materials for every season or holiday. 

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.

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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