Understanding Communication with Gestalt Language Learners

Understanding Communication with Gestalt Language Learners

Did you know that echoing language in phrases and sentences before developing single “first words” is considered a completely developmental way to process language and that there’s also a way to support it to develop, naturally? It may be a sign your child is a gestalt language learner

Scripting and Echolalia are terms used to describe when a child is repeating common phrases, parts of shows, songs, etc. In most instances, the phrases are from preferred movies, shows, and songs, and from those a child interacts with frequently. For some, these communication patterns can be thought to lack communicative function or meaning. However, scripting and echolalia are often characteristic of gestalt language learners and is a very common form of communication when children are learning how to communicate. 

Scripting is defined as the repetition of words, phrases, or sounds from others’ speech that is used over time, mostly outside of context. In most instances, the phrases are from preferred movies, shows, songs, and from those a child interacts with frequently. (Delayed Echolalia, n.d.)

Scripting is seen in both neurodiverse and neurotypical populations, and is another way children communicate. This is because communication reduces frustration, gives a sense of self, personality, and confidence. This motivates and supports more experiences with the world around them as they develop. Scripting may be a preferred method of communication as a child is learning how to express and navigate their thoughts, emotions, social intent, experiences, etc. Parents, caregivers, and therapists can then appreciate their child’s abilities to enjoy a wider variety of experiences with this perspective, and understanding of the intent of scripting and echolalic language we see in gestalt language learners.(McCullough 2021)

Gestalt language learners process language in chunks rather than one word at a time. For example, a child might learn the word “truck” and expand to “big truck”. However, a gestalt language learner might hear their parents say, “The truck is so big!” and the child may repeat the entire phrase when they see trucks. This is because the child is learning language in chunks and has a harder time breaking down language they’ve learned into one word at a time. Over time, a child will begin to break down “gestalt forms” as they begin to understand language rules and sentence structure (syntax) and recombine segments into spontaneous speech. Eventually, the child learns to communicate spontaneously. 

(Delayed Echolalia, n.d.)

Scripting can often be linked to emotions that a child is feeling. For example, a child may use a script they experienced when they are feeling happy, sad, etc., to another experience where they are feeling the same emotion. For example, I had a client who loved swimming. She would talk about it especially when she was excited. One day, she looked outside and saw that it was snowing. Her parents shared with me that she began to script about swimming. It is suspected she was sharing the same emotion that she feels when she is swimming, which conveyed the message the child wanted to share.  This is because recent research shows that echolalic language is often meaningful and shared with a purpose.

Here are some signs your child may be a gestalt language processor:

  • Utilizes language learned in chunks. Often first scripts are to music. 
  • Utilizes their own name when speaking about themselves E.g. “Billy has a turn”
  • Mixes up pronouns (you for I) This is likely because they utilize the word in the chunk that it is learned and do not yet understand the meaning behind the pronoun.
  • Studies or replays media such as songs, parts of books & videos
  • Language used tends to stay consistent (using similar phrases), however grows more spontaneous over time
  • Delayed language acquisition likely due to the fact they are learning language differently
  • Decreased speech intelligibility as the long strings of speech may be difficult for the child to produce
  • Speech is often lively and animated
  • Strong musical inclination

(Dyan Robson, 2021)

If you think your child is a gestalt language processor, do not worry. There are several ways to support your child in their language acquisition. First, if your child is using echolalia or scripts after about 30 months of age, it is important to seek an evaluation from a licensed speech-language pathologist to best support their development. When you notice these scripts or echolalic language use, try and identify what message the child is trying to convey, and respond with comments and questions referring to what the child was intending to communicate. 

Children are constantly absorbing language around them, therefore modeling appropriate language is an effective way for the child to learn how to use their language efficiently. To expand the function of the child’s scripted/echolalic messages, use them in other settings your child is in. You can combine these phrases & words to show how language can be combined to convey meaning. Above all, remember that these echolalic and scripted phrases are meaningful ways of communication and should be treated as such. While use of scripts and echolalia is different, it is parallel to unique spontaneous phrases from your child and can be used as building blocks for language, to initiate and model conversations, through strategies such as asking questions and adding comments.

If you have questions about your child’s speech and language skills and acquisition, please seek an evaluation from a speech-language pathologist for a professional opinion.

(Fenwick, 2021).


Delayed echolalia. Social Butterfly. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.sbspeechtherapy.com/delayed-echolalia

Dyan Robson (2021). Signs that your child is a gestalt language processor. And Next Comes L Hyperlexia Resources. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.andnextcomesl.com/2022/02/signs-of-gestalt-language-processing.html 

Fenwick, J. (2021, December 22). Echolalia: What it means and what to do (and not do!). Express Yourself, NC. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.expressyourselfnc.com/blog/echolalia-what-to-do-and-not-do 

McCullough, E. (2021, December 15). What is gestalt language processing? Parade Pediatric  Speech Therapy. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.paradespeech.com/blog/what-is-gestalt-language-processing?msclkid=a228d948b5e811ec82db21e9d9b787ab 


Recent Posts



Skip to content