Gestalt Language Processing and the Natural Language Acquisition Framework

April 15, 2023 No Comments

What is the Natural Language Acquisition Framework?

The Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) Framework is a way in which to understand and describe the progression of language development for Gestalt Language Processors (GLPs). 

It was first discovered by Barry Prizant and further researched and developed by Ann Peters, Marge Blanc and their colleagues through decades of clinical research carried out with neurotypical children and Autistic children. 

According to Blanc, “NLA describes the four developmental stages identified by Prizant and colleagues, expanded to six, and quantified so the natural language of each gestalt processor can be assessed, followed and used in planning natural environmental supports at each stage.”

Stages of the NLA Framework

1. Gestalts (Delayed Echolalia)

This is the first stage of the NLA framework where a child will begin to use multi-word or stuck single-word Gestalts to communicate. The child is drawn to these Gestalts based on their intonation and the emotions behind them. They may use these Gestalts in a different situation to when they initially heard and stored them.

2. Mitigation (Partial Gestalts & Creating New Combinations)

This stage involves the child breaking down or shortening their Gestalts, which can result in better understanding by those around them. Mixing or re-combining of Gestalts also happens at this stage where shortened phrases from different Gestalts are combined to form new utterances.

3. Isolated Single Words

Following success at stage 2, GLPs start to identify single words and to form original two-word combinations – what an exciting stage!

Single words are the true building blocks for self-generated phrases built from scratch.  

Once the child reaches Stage 3, it is important that we spend a lot of time here. By not rushing this stage we set the child up for more spontaneous language later.

4. Original Phrases and Beginning Sentences

At Stage 4, experimentation with grammar begins. Children experience and play with verbs, three-word combinations and verb elaborations themselves. This is an important stage in early sentence structure development.

5. Original sentences with more complex grammar

A natural progression from stage 4, this is where we begin to see the child using even more grammar at a more complex level including different verb tenses (past and present), pronouns and the conjunction ‘and’.

6. Original sentences with a complete grammar system

Everything learned in stages 4 and 5 culminates in stage 6 where GLPs acquire the complete grammar of their native language. Ensuring understanding of the meaning behind grammar at this stage is important for continuous development.

How can I support GLPs through the NLA framework?

At each stage there are many ways we can support GLPs to naturally progress through the NLA framework:

  • Acknowledge the child’s commnication by repeating their Gestalt, saying “yes” or by nodding and smiling
  • Continue to communicate in a natural way
  • Use simple sentences
  • Speak as if the child was saying it e.g “I’m here”
  • Avoid asking questions

Allow the child to take their time at each stage. Progression through each stage should occur naturally in order for real development to take place and have a lasting effect.



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