August 21, 2023

We recently reviewed Stage 1 of Natural Language Acquisition or gestalt Language development. Just for a brief reminder, the stages of each stage of Natural Language Acquisition are below:

Stage 1: Echolalia

• Use of individual gestalts learned from either consumed media or individuals within the community (family members, caregivers, therapists, etc.) • These gestalts are fixed, and their exact production (often including fixed intonational variations) will not change from instance to instance EX: “Let it go!” “Give me more cookies!”

Stage 2: Mitigated gestalts

• This phrase is hallmarked by the combination of gestalts which are already established within the individual communicative repertoire EX: “Let me go,” or “Go give more cookies.”

Stage 3: Single word use

• This phase, which is particularly exciting from a language development standpoint, occurs when the individual begins recognizing words as their own linguistic units as opposed to fixed utterances. This is the first stepping stone toward truly spontaneous and independent communication. EX: “Go,” “More,” etc.

Stages 4, 5 and 6: Emerging syntax and increased sentence complexity

• Hallmarks of these stages include inappropriate syntax use progressing toward complex and appropriate grammar and increased sentence complexity EX: “Let’s give me more cookies,” —> “Go get the toy,” —> “Please give me the toy.”

Gestalt/Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) Stage 2

The second stage of Natural Language Acquisition is the stage where children begin to mitigate their gestalts, or mix and match certain portions of their gestalts to create new utterances. When 50% of a language sample collected by a clinician indicates the presence of mitigated gestalts, that’s how you can tell a child is solidly in stage 2 of Natural Language Acquisition.

In therapy, this translates to the modeling of each client’s gestalts being mitigated to fit the activities in the session. When your client/child has reached this step of Natural Language Acquisition, they should have a variety of stage 1 gestalts to sample for mitigation with words such as “it’s,” “let’s,” or “we/I can.” The quantity of mitigatable gestalts as well as a variety of words is important before modeling the mitigation of these gestalts. If your client does not have a large inventory or their gestalts are not easily mitigatable (for example, a client using the gestalt “Swiper no swiping!” doesn’t translate well to mitigation as not many utterances begin with the word ‘Swiper’) then they may not be fully ready for stage 2.

Types of gestalts to keep in mind when monitoring an inventory include gestalts that aid in the transition between activities or settings, narrate or describe activities, or allow the communicator to request/indicate their wants/needs.

The overarching principles regarding this stage are the same ones that we will discuss in each stage of Natural Language Acquisition: continuously take language samples, monitor your client’s progress, become a language detective, and keep your sessions child-led and fun. Communication is a way that we can connect with other people, and this connection should be joyful for our clients.

I’d also like to take this moment to remind anyone reading this that just because you have a client or a child who falls under the descriptor of a gestalt language processor, does not necessarily mean that they require traditional speech/language therapy services. Natural Language Acquisition is just that - natural! Children can move through all 6 stages without the aid of a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist. If, however, you are looking for additional supports for your child or they are already receiving the services of an SLP, then you are in the right place!

Join us in a few weeks for stage 3, and my personal favorite, single word use!


Meaningful Speech Course:

In-Depth Courses about NLA:

Additional free resources: free resources:

About the Author

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Marisa Julius is a speech-language pathologist that has worked in both public and private school settings with a focus in pediatric augmentative and alternative communication therapy. She currently works for a private specialized school setting with children 5-21 with complex communication needs and a variety of disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Language Delays, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and more. She is a Missouri native and earned two Bachelor’s degrees from Truman State University in Communication Disorders and German Studies. She received her M.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Saint Louis University. She considers herself a lifelong learner, and is thrilled to be writing for SLP Toolkit, if only for an additional excuse to read more. In her free time, you can find her cooking, reading, hiking, or showing everyone unsolicited pictures of her dog.