NLA Stage 1

Stage 1 is exciting! It’s the beginning of the NLA journey…so, regardless of where your child is now, regardless of how much you understand about the process, Stage 1 is where this language journey begins! So far, the language in your child’s head may be something like, “Fivelittlemonkeys jumpingonthebed…” all blurred together. Or “Tickle tickle!” Or “Where’d you go?” Language gestalts come from important lived experiences. They are the soundtrack of emotional experiences, and whenever you get to hear one — either when your child says/sings one or when they play a media one one again and again — know that your child’s first communicative intention is to relive that emotion — and share it! The best thing you can do is to be there so it will be shared!

That’s the most important thing you need to know about Stage 1! Everything else will take a little bit of time, but this foundational piece is what you really need to know to value gestalt language! So, ask yourself: have you spent plenty of time appreciating your child’s gestalts? Live with them now! Live with them in your head until they become a part of you. Think about why are they might be important to the child. Were you there when the child first heard them? Were the little monkeys having fun? Was it funny that momma monkey called the doctor? How does this feel to you? Can you live your child’s feeling?

And how does it feel to communicate back to your little Stage 1 processor? Can you smile or chuckle with authenticity? Or hum along? Did that make your child happy? Don’t worry if it didn’t. Our musical kids often like it better when we just appreciate their song silently! But here’s the prize. When we find the just-right reaction, what did you child do? Did your child look at you like, ‘Wow, you get it!” If so, congratulations! That’s the ‘buy in’ from your child that gives you permission to go to the next level. Trust began the process — appreciating your child’s choices, play, language, everything — truly appreciating and enjoying it all! With that ‘bingo’ eye contact, your child says, “You get me.”

So what’s next? Your little one may ready for you to start a new experience, share a new memory! Can you introduce a new song at just-the-right moment? Or accompany a new activity with a new bit of language your child might like? “Come on!” or “Let’s go to the top of the hill!” as you join your child and run together. Or “How ‘bout some ice cream?’ as you spoon some out for both of you. Or, “It’s blue! I love blue!” as your child picks the blue paint to try. Think of one you might try — when the time is right. First comes the right occasion, then comes the language that goes with it. And here’s the logic: that way, language is part of the experience, not something we introduce outside of experience, and then have to generalize! It’s the organic way, and it works for GLPs!

Whether the time is right now — or later when your child is ready — the reward is enormous. When it happens, your child will be listening to you! Choosing to listen to you! That’s an incredible gift for both of you, because you will be able to be an important source of language that your child can use to grow. With trust, you will be in a favored position to suggest language you think your child might want like. “I love that color!” “I love blue!” “What’s for dinner?” “What’s happening?” “Let’s look!” “Let’s cuddle up together!” You’ll plan activities and provide the sound-track! You’ll pick easy-to-mitigate language and help pave the way to Stage 2.

Please see the NLA Handout, and the Stage 1 Supports, for further suggestions!

Supports: Stage 1

First do this!

1. Review the NLA Stages; know where Stage 1 gestalts fit in; be ready to listen for them!

2. Listen for gestalts your child already has (or accesses). They are language, real language! Take note of:

  • video clips they rewind
  • songs they love to hear
  • stories/rhymes/jingles they listen to over and over
  • stories/rhymes/jingles they say over and over, even if you don’t understand the words (this might sound like ‘jargon,’ but it’s actually gestalt language
  • things they love to hear the same way each time
  • melodies or intonation they love to hear
  • melodies or intonation they love to sing/say

3. Acknowledge your child’s gestalts:

  • sing them back if you can (your child may not want you to, though, if they have perfect pitch and you don’t!)
  • repeat back what your child says, even if you only understand a little, or just part of the intonation or melody
  • smile with recognition that your child is communicating!
  • watch for a sign from your child that your interpretation is on the right track (the sign could a look, a smile, a glance in your direction — maybe even eye contact)
  • don’t worry if you don’t get a sign yet; it may take time; but once you do, your child will trust that you are a good listener/observor, and will want to share more with you
  • celebrate your connection! It is the most important step in this process!

4. Narrate your day with your child.

  • Talk about what you’re doing and thinking. Practice by yourself first, so you can sound natural when your child is present. 
  • Get used to saying things in ‘kid-friendly’ sentences that are animated, and sound distinctive. They are part of your child’s experience. Make them count!

For young toddlers use just a few gestalts at fun, high emotion times. Use intonation and melody your child will like:

  • That was fun!
    • I love that!
    • Look at that!
    • I’ll race you!
    • Let’s go!
    • It’s wet!

            For older toddlers and children, think about using a little more variety. But if variety doesn’t seem to resonate, drop back to the simpler gestalts. Always pick your gestalts with your child in mind:

            • ‘I’m thinking…snack time!’ 
            • ‘I’m gonna get…chocolate!’ 
            • ‘How about mac-and-cheese?’ 
            • ‘We love…ice cream’ 
            • ‘It’s a party!’
            • ‘What a cute kitty!’
            • Reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Write down your gestalts and post them on the fridge for others to use too. Write down your child’s reactions. Enjoy the process!

            Then do this!

            1. Congratulate yourself, because you’re now modeling language for your gestalt language processor! Your language will be useful to your child because it’s real language, and your comments match meaningful situations. Your child can benefit from what you say, because you’re ‘speaking their language.’ You are supporting them to hear your comments, and continue language development!

            2. Model language 50% of the time .The rest of the time, just talk naturally. Your child also needs you to just be yourself!

            3.  Make your language models count. Practice some easy, short sentences, ones that will give your child a good foundation for language development, then try one or more with your child. If one doesn’t resonate, try another: 

            • Let’s +
            • I’m +
            • We’re + 
            • It’s +
            • What’s +
            • Look at +
            • How about +
            • Where’s + 
            • Don’t +

            4.  Pick statements your child can use (from their perspective, your joint perspective, or a neutral perspective):

            • Use ‘I’ statements to talk about what you’re doing: ‘I’m thinking about dinner.’ (avoiding pronoun ‘reversals’ that way)
            • Comment from your joint perspective: ‘We’re having spaghetti.’
            • Suggest fun ideas from a joint perspective with ‘Let’s +’ (‘Let’s go to the park!’) Your child can either store your gestalt if it fits, or show you that it doesn’t. (this offers you a way to gather information without asking a question)
            • Speak from a neutral perspective: ‘It’s time to eat!’

            5. Protect your child from well-intended, but misguided language practices that are commonly used with analytic language processors (ALPs) — especially those that come with compliance, rewards, or any form of ABA. No single- word training; no questions; no prompting; no fill-in-the-blank.

            6. Avoid asking questions at Stage 1. Asking questions is a misguided practice for trying to elicit language. Understand that GLPs echo language. Even questions! Figure out what they want, or would choose, or agree with, or disagree with another way. Model something they want and see their eyes light up. Model something they don’t want and watch their reaction. There are other ways of figuring things out besides questions!


            7. Eliminate any focus on single words when your child is at Stage 1. Single words will be processed as ‘unmitigable’ gestalts — and will be in your child’s head forever. They do not lead to language development because they don’t break down. They are not building blocks. They are what is known as ‘stuck gestalts.’ 

            Finally do this!

            1. Think about ‘communicative intentions.’ That means asking yourself why your child is communicating something particular. They can be communicating with songs, scripts, accessing media clips, leading you to something they like, laughing when they hear something they like, standing or sitting next to something they like. Look for the meaning your child has, and the reasons they have for communicating to you.

            • Know that the first reason a GLP communicates is to share their emotional experiences in the best ways available to them 
            • But their attempts may not work for them, because their speech or other attempts may be hard (or impossible) to understand. Be the detective your child needs!

            2. Listen/watch deeply for what your child is sharing.

            • We have under-estimated non-speaking and unintelligible children — particularly autistic children. We thought they lacked ‘intention,’ and just wanted rewards, so we taught them to say the names for things they liked, like food items, and then to say ‘I want + .’  
            • Now we know autistic children are capable of natural language development — so we must eliminate all compensatory practices. They interfere with true language development, undermine it — and are a waste of precious time.

            3. Consider the rich experiences inside your child’s mind. They are what your child wants to share. And they translate into successful communication if our children have us as communication partners! 

            • Ask yourself these important questions. Which of these ‘intentions’ does your child communicate?

            • asking for comfort, affection, safety, and reassurance
            • hoping you enjoy what they enjoy — maybe a special song, or a tickle, or a sound they hear
            • expressing emotions like joy, happiness, fear, and confusion. 
            • suggesting something fun to do, maybe together
            • sharing what they notice around them
            • asking you a question they don’t have the words for yet
            • sharing a favorite story, song…anything they like!

            4. Remember that Stage 2 follows Stage 1, so: 

            • Think ahead. Prepare for Stage 2. Once you can provide some variety with these gestalts, they can give your child a nice foundation for Stage 2. You’ll find plenty of information under Stage 2 Supports.
            • Take plenty of language samples so you know when your child is moving to Stage 2. Look at the NLA book for more guidelines.

            Remember that Stage 1 is just the beginning. 

            You have incredible adventures ahead, so enjoy this one!