They are analytic and gestalt language modes of acquisition.  For a long time, I had no answer for my son’s delayed echolalia and every therapist simply was working “around it”.  He had limited speech and until I stumbled on this article, I did not figure out that my child checked all boxes of a “gestalt language processor”.  Read on to understand and ensure you are using the right approach for such a kid.
Please see the chart below for quick reference.  Originally published here, for more details.


Gestalt language acquisition is a style of language development with predictable stages that begins with the production of multi-word “gestalt forms” and ends with the production of novel utterances.

  • At first, children produce “chunks” or “gestalt form” (e.g., echolalic utterances), without distinction between individual words and without an appreciation for internal syntactic structure.
  • As children understand more about syntax and syntactic rules, they can analyze (break down) these “gestalt forms” and begin to recombine segments and words into spontaneous forms.
  • Eventually, the child is able to formulate creative, spontaneous utterances for communication purposes.

To summarize: Gestalt learners learn in “chunks” without processing the meanings of individual words. This learning style is called a “gestalt” style of language acquisition.  Check out a supporting article here

Read on how to support their language acquisition!

  • Teach appropriate gestalts that can be used as building blocks. E.g “I need help”, “Potty please”.

▪ Pick gestalts that the child understands and would be useful for them to combine (e.g., “let’s find,” “want more”, “missing”)

▪ Use motivating and preferred activities- always, I can’t stress this enough.  Use these routines to offer gestalts.

▪ Try not to teach rote/inflexible scripts that are not true symbolic communication (e.g., “Can I please use the bathroom?”), instead, use simpler words or two-word phrases.

Here is the one I want to share that immensely helped my case.

Use teaching core words as a strategy.  Core words are 50-400 words that make up the majority of everything we say.  More on this in my following post.  In a layman’s term teach individual words and generalize effectively in various natural situations.   This broadens their vocabulary and situational awareness.  Practice generalizing across settings and communication partners.

Understanding words and modeling their use purposefully, just a few phrases at a time seems to be the practical step in setting the stage for recombining novel words.  Read my detailed post on core words here.


Understand if your child is a gestalt language processor.  Use echolalia to bridge the gap and build self-generated communication.

It’s a tested strategy in my case, it worked, and my child made great progress in using novel utterances, by combining individual words.  It gave him a boost with emotional regulation as well.  His newly learned speech made it easier to communicate, thus reducing anxiety, and positively impacting his outcome of engaging with others throughout the day.



Stiegler, L. N. (2015). Examining the echolalia literature: where do speech-language pathologists
stand?.American journal of speech-language pathology, 24(4), 750-762.
▪ B. Prizant, J. Duchan, “The functions of immediate echolalia in autistic children”, Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, no. 46, pp. 241–249, 1981.
▪ Blanc, M. (2012). Natural language acquisition on the autism spectrum: The journey from echolalia to self-generated language.
Madison, WI: Communication Development Center.
▪ Local, J., & Wootton, T. (1995). Interactional and phonetic aspects of immediate echolalia in autism: A case study. Clinical Linguistics
& Phonetics, 9, 155–184.
▪ Prizant, B. M., & Duchan, J. F. (1981). The functions of immediate echolalia in autistic children.Journal of speech and hearing disorders, 46(3), 241-249.
▪ Rydell, P., & Mirenda, P. (1994). Effects of high and low constraint utterances on the production of immediate and delayed echolalia
in young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 719–735.
▪ Sterponi, L., & Shankey, J. (2014). Rethinking echolalia: Repetition as interactional resource in the communication of a child with
autism. Journal of Child Language, 41, 275–304.
▪ Tarplee, C., & Barrow, E. (1999). Delayed echoing as an interactional resource: A case study of a 3-year-old child on the autistic
spectrum. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 13, 449–482.
▪ https://blog.asha.org/2017/05/09/echoes-of-language-development-7-facts-about-echolalia-for-slps/
▪ https://www.hanen.org/SiteAssets/Articles---Printer-Friendly/Research-in-your-Daily-Work/The-Meaning-Behind-the-Message_Helping-Childrenwh.aspx
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