Did you know there are two ways to acquire language!
Yes it’s true there is in fact two ways to acquire language and I’m going to tell you all about it…
The first is Analytic Language Processing
We might call these children our ‘Word Babies’. They’re tuned into the words we use around them.Analytic language processors are what most people would recognise as those children who follow a ‘typical’ language development.What does their language development look like?
· Individual words are a child’s basic unit of language
Single words carry individual meaning
Single words are learnt first, then two-word combinations, short phrases, then sentence and grammar
The second is Gestalt Language ProcessingWe might call these children our ‘Intonation Babies‘ and they’re tuned into the high emotion and intonation of the language we use around them.Gestalt language processors develop language in an alternative way. It is commonly seen in Autistic children however, typically developing children can acquire language this way too!
What does their language development look like?
Chunks of language (scripts) are the child’s basic unit of language
Chunks of language carry individual meaning and are often rich in intonation
Chunks of language (scripts) are often taken from emotive situations such as favourite TV shows/films, YouTube videos, things people have said to the child when they’re upset
Before I jump in let me share some useful terminology and definitions with you.
Echolalia – This is the repetition of sounds and or utterances spoken by others.
Immediate Echolalia – This is when utterances are produced or ‘echoed’ immediately after they’re heard. This is not part of gestalt language development it’s use does however have many purposes such as processing language, taking a turn in conversation, committing language to memory.
Delayed Echolalia – This is the repetition of words/phrases that are ‘echoed’ after a gap of time e.g. hour, day, week, month. Delayed echolalia is purposeful communication and the first stage of natural language acquisition. Delayed echolalia can also serve as a self-stim and/or can communicate dysregulation.
Gestalt - A gestalt is a single word or ‘chunk’ of language, also referred to as a ‘script’. Gestalts tend to be rich in intonation, and may be tied to an emotional experience. These ‘chunks’ of language may have come from TV shows/films or things a child had heard someone say. A child will use these ‘chunks’ before having knowledge/awareness of its internal structure. Gestalts often have an underlying meaning, so we shouldn’t always take them literally.
Mitigable Gestalt - An utterance that can be broken down and re-combined with other chunks of language, in a way that feels natural.
So you might be thinking “well how do I know if my child is developing language in a different way to the ‘norm’?”Well here are some signs that your child might be a Gestalt Language Processor…
Gestalt Language Development is made up of different stages and it’s important to first work out and identify which stage your child is in as this will help understand how to support them through their language development.
How do I know what stage my child is in?
If you have a feeling your child may be in a particular stage it is advised that you seek support from a Speech and Language Therapist who will then be able to gather a number of natural language samples and score your child’s utterances against the Natural Language Acquisition framework to determine exactly what stage your child is in. Following this your Speech and Language Therapist will be able to provide advice and support on how to best support your child in reaching their goal towards self-generated language.
*Note: It might be worth finding out if your Speech and Language Therapist has an understanding of Natural Language Acquisition and gestalt language development. You may even want to check if they are a trained clinician in this particular approach.
What can I do to support a Gestalt Language Processor?
Here are my go-to strategies when working with a Gestalt Language Processor…
One last thing…
Gestalt Language Processing is simply a different way of developing language but remember, different doesn’t mean wrong it just means different. If your child is developing and acquiring language in a different way this doesn’t mean their language development is disordered, it just means different language supports are required.