There are 2 types of language developmental processes: Analytic Language Development and Gestalt Language Development
Analytic Language Development: We learn words as a single unit and slowly expand our utterances with time
- Here is an example of how you may see an analytic language learner use and grow their language: go –> go out –> want go out –> I want to go out!
Gestalt Language Development: We learn full sentences as a unit, often producing “scripts” before using and combining single words
- Here is an example of how you may see a gestalt language learner use and grow their language: let’s get out of here! –> let’s get some more –> get…more! –> I get more
We see gestalt language processing in lots of children, particularly those with autism. This can look like jargoning, echolalia, or scripting. Echolalia/scripting is rarely literal, however, so we have to put in the detective work in order to figure out what these scripts mean. For example, if a child says “zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon,” we need to figure out where they learned that script from and what actions they expect afterwards in order to determine the meaning of that gestalt. It does not literally mean that they want to pretend to fly to the moon, but could mean that they are ready to move! The delayed echolalia/scripts produced by children are often tied to strong emotional experiences and are rich in intonation/melody. Additionally, many autistic individuals continue to use gestalts into adulthood, which often allows them to more fully (and successfully) participate in social interactions
What does this mean for families?
Know that echolalia ALWAYS carries communicative intent, so do not ignore it! You can honor what your child communicates by either (1) reinforcing the underlying meaning of the script if we know what it means or (2) repeating it back and affirming that you heard them if you don’t know what it means.
You can support their development of language by:
- Simply acknowledging (rather than ignoring) gestalts/echolalia. Autistics adults have come out to state that simply acknowledging echolalia/scripting as a form of communication is validating.
- Modeling functional gestalts instead of asking questions (which will often be repeated back to you). A good structure for modeled gestalts includes: “It’s…,” “Let’s…,” and “I’m…” statements.
- Tuning into/creating melody when modeling language for your child
- Remembering that the echolalia you hear is often deeply tied to emotion, so could give you clues as to your child’s regulatory state.
- Keeping a list of your child’s gestalt and what they mean to help aid you with supporting their communication