How to Support Gestalt Language Processors Using the Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) Protocol

Meghan Cosmik, MA, CCC-SLP | Speech Language Pathologist
March 25, 2024

There are two ways children can develop language. One way is called analytic language development or analytic language processing (ALP), which is considered the traditional style of language acquisition that starts with single words and progresses to multiword utterances  (Peters, 1983). A second way children can develop language is called gestalt language development or gestalt language processing (GLP), and it is when a child processes language in large chunks instead of single words. Echolalia is an important part of language development for  GLPs. Over time, both language styles move toward flexible, self-generated grammar in the later stages (Peters, 1983; Prizant, 1983). 

How do we support gestalt language processors? We use the Natural Language Acquisition  (NLA) Protocol.  

What is the Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) Protocol? The Natural Language Acquisition  (NLA) Protocol is a description of the six stages of gestalt language development, quantification of those stages, and documentation of the natural supports that allow students to progress through the stages (Blanc, 2012). 

The six stages of the Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) include: 

Stage 1 – Use of language gestalts or echolalia 

Stage 2 – Mitigation or partial use of gestalts 

Stage 3 – Referential stage, single words or 2-word combinations (noun, noun + noun, adjective  + noun). 

Stage 4, 5, and 6 – Beginning grammar. 

Key takeaways include: 

  • Begin with building a connection with a child based on trust regardless of how long this process takes as this is the core of the NLA protocol. 
  • Child-led therapy 
  • Acknowledge all communication and communication attempts. 
  • Honor all modalities of communication (gestures, AAC, spoken words, etc.) Be a detective and collaborate with families and other professionals to determine the true meaning of a language gestalt.


Sources Cited: Using the Natural Language Acquisition Protocol to Support Gestalt Language  Development. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 

Marge Blanc, Amanda Blackwell, and Paulina Elias. December 2023. Retrieved from 

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