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Why does my child talk in scripts?

Gestalt Language Processing and Autism



What is the difference between Gestalt Language Processing

and Analytic Language Processing? 


Analytic language processing is where the child learns language as single words (eg. dog, cat, ball), and then builds them up to be longer and longer sentences. Gestalt Language Processing is the opposite, where the child learns language in ‘chunks’ or ‘phrases’ (Eg. “the dog runs”, or “throw the ball”) and then overtime breaks them down into their individual words. Gestalt Language learners tend to begin talking with a variety of inflections, while Analytic Language learners will have flatter tone, but clearer words. 


Gestalt language processing is commonly associated with echolalia. Echolalia, is where a child repeats words or phrases that they have heard, either immediately (eg. you say ‘there’s a cat’ and your child instantly repeats ‘there’s a cat’), or delayed (eg. you say ‘there’s a cat” and your child says “there’s a cat” unrelated a couple of hours later.) 


It has been previously thought that echolalic sentences were ‘meaningless’ however new research in the autism space has proven that these play a role in gestalt language acquisition (Stiegler, 2015). 


Sometimes there are functional and pragmatically appropriate gestalts, such as when someone asks you “how are you?” and you immediately reply “I’m good, how are you?” without thinking, or if someone says “Enjoy your movie” and you reply “you too”.  However, there can also be ‘gestalts’ that are not as functional, such as an autistic child may say “to infinity and beyond” to mean “I want to go”.





Autism and GLP


Research has found that most autistic children process language using gestalt language processing (Prizant, 1983). Although there are some neurotypical children who develop language using gestalt language processing, it is most common for them to acquire language with analytic language processing. Once we know how a child is learning a language, it allows us to best support that child’s language acquisition





How does treatment differ between the two ways to learn language?


For Gestalt Language processors we recommend modelling short phrases that can be mixed and matched, such as “let’s go”, or “car go” or “ready set go”. Strategies that we use for Analytic Language Processors such as single word modelling, focusing on grammar in early stages, and asking questions, may not be best for our gestalt language processors.


It is noted that these strategies can be used with both language processors, however, are more effective when paired with their language processing profile.





 

If this sounds like your child and you would like more information, or extra support, please reach out to mcrisp@beyondspeechservices.com



Resources:


Prizant, B. M. (1983). Language acquisition and communicative behavior in autism: Toward an understanding of the “whole” of it. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 48(3), 296–307. https://doi.org/10.1044/jshd.4803.296

Stiegler, L. N. (2015). Examining the echolalia literature: Where do speech-language pathologists stand? American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24(4), 750–762. https://doi.org/10.1044/2015_AJSLP-14-0166

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