#266 - Gestalt Language Processing with Jacquelyn Vorndran, MA, CCC-SLP

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC July 26, 2023

#266 - Gestalt Language Processing with Jacquelyn Vorndran, MA, CCC-SLP

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Gestalt Language Processing with Jacquelyn Vorndran, MA, CCC-SLP

Jacquelyn Vorndran is a nature-based pediatric speech language therapist located in Durham, North Carolina. Her practice is entitled "Brave Roots Speech Therapy" and she is so grateful to be able to operate this practice and grow it in a way that feels intentional, respectful and individualized. The opportunity to witness a child's wonder and joy in nature is one of the best ways she’s been able to maintain perspective on what really matters in this life! These children and families teach her as much, if not more, than she can ever offer them!

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Website: braverootsnc.com

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Gestalt Language Processing with Jacquelyn Vorndran, MA CCC-SLP

Jacquelyn Vorndran is a dedicated pediatric speech-language therapist in Durham, North Carolina. She proudly founded Brave Roots Speech Therapy, a practice that integrates the beauty of nature with a focus on augmentative and assistive communication (AAC), gestalt processing, and providing neurodiverse-affirming social support.

What Is Gestalt Language Processing?

While gestalt language processing is not new, speech therapists have traditionally emphasized analytical language development in their education. Analytical language development, a sequential approach to language learning, starts with basic concepts and progressively integrates more advanced ones.

In gestalt language processing, language acquisition involves assimilating word chunks rather than solely focusing on individual words. For instance, individuals can hear a phrase and use it as a whole, even before fully comprehending grammar or being aware of its internal structure.

How Is Gestalt Language Processing Diagnosed?

Gestalt language processing offers significant advantages for children with language delays, communication disorders, and other conditions that hinder analytical language development. It can also be valuable for individuals with limited exposure to language, whether due to limited access to caregivers or engaging experiences.

Furthermore, gestalt processing offers significant advantages for children with autism. While some may develop language skills through analytical methods, many can significantly benefit from a gestalt approach to communication, particularly those who struggle with comprehending complex sentences.

Is There A Difference Between Gestalt Processors And Echolalia?

Echolalia plays a crucial role as an initial stage in gestalt language development. It encompasses two distinct types: immediate echolalia, characterized by the immediate repetition of speech or intonation from others, and delayed echolalia, which occurs shortly after hearing the speech.

Delayed echolalia is repeating words or phrases that have been previously heard, and it can happen minutes, hours, days, months, or even weeks later. It is considered a component of the initial stage of gestalt language processing.

Immediate echolalia refers to the immediate and complete or partial repetition of utterances upon hearing them. While it often occurs in many gestalt language processors, it is not a typical element of gestalt language processing.

What Are The Stages Of Gestalt Language Processing?

Gestalt language processing comprises six distinct stages. While certain children may combine these stages, others predominantly rely on a single stage.

Stage One: Delayed Echolalia

Children start expressing themselves through complete phrases or even individual words during this stage. They may even imitate intonation patterns observed by their parents.

Stage Two: Mix/Match or Partial Gestalts.

The deconstruction of the stage one gestalt has occurred at this stage. Similar to children who require a vocabulary of at least 50 words before they can start combining them, the same principle applies here.

During stage one, children typically have two stored phrases: "Let's get more" and "I want to do it." As they progress to stage two, they effortlessly blend elements from both phrases, resulting in a coherent expression such as "Let's do it.

Stage Three: Single Words and Two-Word Combinations

As learners advance to stage three, they transition into using two-word combinations and acquiring analytical language skills. Additionally, learners exhibit increased spontaneity and creativity, manipulating these linguistic puzzle pieces and arranging them in various ways.

Stage Four-Six: New Original Phrases/Sentences with Beginning Grammar or More Advanced & Complex Grammar

During this stage, you may observe grammar development as your child progresses through the subsequent stages. As they construct sentences, you might also notice minor imperfections in their grammar.

After establishing a solid foundation in stage one of gestalt processing, individuals can further enhance their understanding in stages two and three. Nevertheless, when confronted with new challenges, there might be a temporary regression to stage one before progressing forward.

Understanding the Progression of Gestalt Language Processing in Children

When it comes to children, it is essential to understand that speech and language difficulties are not the fault of anyone. The understanding and acceptance of language acquisition vary greatly, leading to different approaches and strategies.

Labeling is a common approach that involves the identification of single words. However, during stage one, gestalt processors tend to store these words without the ability to break them down or combine them.

A gestalt language processor that has undergone analytic language intervention is often characterized by isolated words that resist disentanglement. These words, like "mama," remain confined and fail to extend their applicability to other contexts due to limited exposure to the versatile meanings "mama" can encompass.

Children's linguistic processing development is closely tied to their brain function. Children typically use single words in stage three, but distinguishing between a child stuck in stage one and one progressing in stage three can pose a challenge.

During stage three, it's observed that the emergence of word combinations that indicate progress, such as noun-noun-verb-noun. Additionally, children develop many phrases while exhibiting characteristics from stages one and two.

It's essential to recognize that children can only utilize fragmented gestalt or single words once they have entirely mastered stage one. This is why it's necessary to observe a child in various contexts to identify their stage of language processing.

Does Each Gestalt Stage Have A Specific Timeframe?

While some Gestalt processors smoothly advance through stages without intervention, others may require additional support. The timeframe for each stage differs considerably, and it's essential to factor in the various influences that might impact their timeline.

A child's learning capabilities, education system, language environment, and socialization all contribute to their progression through different stages of Gestalt processing. Additionally, limited exposure to language can result in challenges for some children regarding understanding and communication.

Therefore, language samples are valuable for monitoring a child's progress. If the child produces 50% or more of their utterances in a particular stage, it indicates their readiness to move on to the next.

By embracing this methodology, you can efficiently employ intervention strategies and guarantee optimal advancement. Comprehending language processing and its evolution is paramount for successful communication.

Differentiating Gestalt Language Processors From Others

Intonation patterns are crucial in the processing of gestalt language. These patterns often reflect the primary influence of the speaker and encompass various prosodic characteristics, such as pitch, volume, rate, and more.

There may be occasions when certain words appear stagnant, as though a cluster of words exists without any discernible progress. Additionally, humming or singing possesses an undeniable charm for this specific group, underscoring their deep connection with music.

Many gestalt processors demonstrate hyperlexia, a phenomenon characterized by advanced reading abilities that surpass one's chronological age. In children with limited speech output, you may notice the presence of jargon or humming, as well as discernible patterns in their play.

You may notice language and experiential chunks in your child as well. For example, repetitive actions that form a gestalt or the repetition of a theme song will often listen to the first 30 seconds of a song and then replay it.

Ways To Support Gestalt Processors In Communication

Focusing solely on correcting your child's language rather than acknowledging their unique way of processing can inadvertently undermine their confidence. Unlike in analytic language development, where you tend to expand or correct their utterances; In gestalt processing, you have the opportunity to respond by affirming their statement ("yes, milk"), expressing their desire more clearly ("I want some milk"), or suggesting an action ("let's get some milk").

Another approach entails replicating the desired expression while reducing reliance on asking questions. Questions may not be the most optimal means of communication, as they can create tension and set expectations, ultimately causing discomfort.

Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize using declarative language, which entails employing precise and concise statements that effectively conveying meaning. The emphasis lies not in issuing commands or constant questioning but in utilizing statements, self-talk, and narrating one's actions.

You can employ highly effective approaches by embracing multimodal communication, actively following your child's lead, and engaging in play. Strategic use of phrases like "let's, we," or "it" can significantly benefit.

For example, by incorporating phrases like "let's explore this further" or "we're thoroughly enjoying ourselves," you can leave a lasting impact. These expressions are known for memorability and are effortlessly processed by stage two gestalt processors.

The Benefits Of AAC For Language Development

Traditional language learning approaches may not be practical for children who process language in a gestalt manner. In these cases, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be a powerful tool to enhance language development.

AAC refers to a broad range of tools and techniques that assist individuals requiring an alternative to verbal communication. These methods encompass sign language, single message switches, and advanced devices or iPad applications that utilize synthesized speech.

Our primary objective is to empower children by providing them the essential tools to express themselves, engage in meaningful conversations, and cultivate age-appropriate and effective language skills. This approach enables them to concentrate on the broader aspects of language rather than getting caught up in the complexities of individual words and phrases.

Incorporating visual aids, such as pictures or symbols, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of AAC. These aids promote a comprehensive understanding of language and facilitate improved communication.

Individuals can effectively convey their thoughts and ideas by leveraging visual cues, fostering meaningful and engaging interactions. This enhances pattern recognition and deepens the understanding of auditory or written content nuances.

Utilizing a single symbol or button to convey comprehensive messages is highly beneficial for children who break down speech into distinct segments. This approach enhances communication by allowing them to express emotions through familiar phrases and personalized catchphrases explicitly designed for your child, making it essential to facilitate effective communication.

By providing access to comprehensive AAC systems that facilitate language production, AAC empowers children to communicate more effectively and actively engage in social interactions. This holistic approach enhances their ability to express themselves and participate meaningfully in various social contexts.

Final Words of Wisdom From Jacqueline Vordran

Never underestimate the power of connection and relationships when working with children or any person. Investing time in building genuine, safe, and trusting relationships promotes growth and progress far more effectively than any strategy or activity ever could.

It is essential to remember that everyone has a unique way of processing information. When you take the time to understand and appreciate your child's specific needs, you can more effectively support them in achieving their goals.

Most importantly, remember to have fun! Gaining a better understanding of gestalt language processing through play and creative activities can help you learn to recognize patterns in your child's development. It will allow them to express themselves while discovering their unique communication methods.

It is essential to remain open-minded, flexible, patient, and understanding when supporting children with gestalt language processing. With the right combination of AAC tools, speech therapy activities, visual aids, and emotional support, you can make a genuine difference in the lives of these exceptional children.





While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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