What is Gestalt Language Processing?

what is gestalt language processing

What is Gestalt Language Processing?

What is gestalt language processing? A question I am often asked as a professional and also as a parent.

As an Autistic parent to 4 neurodivergent children, I know all too well the exceptional and diverse way each of my children communicate. My youngest son Max in particular has taught me the most about supporting Autistic gestalt language processors.

My gorgeous Max’s very first word was “cookie” followed very quickly by “cookie monster eats the cookies”. These were both gestalts, later he would learn to break the gestalt “cookies monster eats the cookies” to say “I want 2 cookies”. This was and is gestalt language processing.

is my child a gestalt language processor

Gestalt Language Terms

I know for many parents trying their best to understand what is gestalt language processing, it can feel overwhelming. A little while ago I created a “Gestalt Language Processing Terms” free pdf guide.

what is gestalt language processing

Both parents and professionals have let me know that this has been a useful resource for them to support learning and understanding of what is gestalt language processing. You can find your free copy of the resource here.

Gestalt Language Processing

The term “gestalt language processing” also referred to as “gestalt language acquisition” is a process of language development wherein an individual develops (produces and understands) language in word(s), phrase(s), or complete sentence(s) that they’ve heard from caregivers, family/friends, from media (ex. Youtube / Cartoons) and in their social environment.

how to know your child is a gestalt language processor

Gestalt language processing is a natural way to develop language. Gestalt language processors follow predictable stages in their language development. These stages eventually lead to original, flexible language.

This form of language development is particularly prevalent in the Autistic population. For individuals who are Autistic and Hyperlexic like myself and my gorgeous Max, it can be a good indicator that the person whether speaking or non-speaking, may be a gestalt language processor.

Natural Language Acquisition Framework

Marge Blanc’s Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) provides that there are 6 developmental stages. The process begins (Stage 1) with the gestalts individuals ascertain from their language sources (ex. parents, siblings, community, media). In Stage 2 these gestalts are broken down, and are broken down further in Stage 3. Singular words begin recombining in Stage 3. Later in stages 4-6 grammar rules take centre stage.

stages of gestalt language processing natural language acquisition

I find it helpful to use a graphic to refer back to when reflecting on the language my beautiful Max used in the past and uses now in present day. It has helped me see how he has moved through and is moving through the differing Natural Language Acquisition Stages.

How do I know if my child is a gestalt language processor?

Working with a NLA trained SLT will be the most important step to identifying whether your child is a Gestalt Language Processor but also you, as a parent learning about gestalt language processing will be hugely important.

Autistic individuals who communicate through gestalts, communicate in a unique way that you may feel unfamiliar. You may wonder how you will know if your child may be a gestalt language processor. Ultimately a NLA trained SLT will be able to tell you, but in the meantime it may be helpful to be aware of traits and differences that GLP may exhibit, these traits and differences may indicate that the person is a gestalt language processor.

I hope you have found this post and the gestalt language processing info-graphs helpful. I have created a FREE PDF Gestalt Language Processing resource that you can download here.

Happy reading!


Arnold, C. (2019). Flipping the Script: Prioritizing the Autistic Voice in the Understanding of Scripting as “Key to the Autistic Identity.” [Doctoral Dissertation, University of San Francisco] USF Scholarship Repository. https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/499/

Blanc, M. (2012). Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language. Communication Development Center.

Peters, A.M. (1983). The Units of Language Acquisition. Cambridge University Press.

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

Prizant, B. M., & Rydell, P. J. (1984). Analysis of functions of delayed echolalia in autistic children. Journal of Speech & Hearing Research. https://doi.org/10.1044/jshr.2702.183 

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

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