How do we play with our Gestalt Language Processors?
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How do we play with our Gestalt Language Processors?

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Child-led therapy

When working with Gestalt Language Processors, it is always advisable to use child-led therapy. What does that mean? Child led therapy involves following a child’s interests and allowing her/him to lead the play activity throughout the speech and language therapy session. In other words, instead of having my own ideas of what we might want to play with or what activities I might try and use, I provide a range of toys I know the child likes or has played well with before; then I wait for the child to pick what she/he enjoys doing.

Play can be very repetitive and we can often see our child cycling back to the same one or two toys throughout the session. But this is what she/he needs to do at that time and it means that we have focused attention and engagement. This in turn is very helpful for the therapeutic process, which is to offer great scripts and phrases/words alongside what she/he is playing with.

Monotropic minds

Often the mind of autistic children is more strongly pulled towards a smaller number of interests or hobbies as I like to call them. Dr Dinah Murray, Dr Winn Lawson and Mike Lesser have found in 2005 that autistic people have ‘monotropic’ minds. They explain that autistic children focus their energy on a narrow range of activities as the energy required to switch between several toys is much higher than we would see in the neuro-typical population.

Gestalt Language Processors are often also Gestalt Cognitive Processors. This is when experiences are retained as episodic events and memories. An event is remembered by specific parts of the same event. And, therefore, these specific parts should always be part of that event, when the event is repeated.

Should any of the specifics be changed or are missing, then this can cause great upset to Gestalt Cognitive Processors. So, for example, if the last two times in speech therapy we had the train set out and this was played with happily, then this becomes a specific part of the whole session. If, I then don’t offer the train set the third time a child comes to see me, this could be very upsetting.

This is why I tend to try this out and see what happens. Usually in the 3rd or 4th session: I might not bring out the car run that has hitherto been super successful to see if we are able to transition well to other toys. If yes, then we can have new experiences but if not then I will re-offer the car run/or whatever toy pretty quickly so as not to cause complete dysregulation.

A few pointers below which help with child-led play:

Introduce a few new toys and see what happens

Parents are encouraged to bring some familiar toys their child likes to the session. We can then introduce a couple of different toys to see how we go. Try offering a new toy alongside the familiar one; try offering new toys without the familiar one present, but be prepared to re-offer the “old” toy should our child get upset.

Rotate toys and don’t offer out too many toys

I find that children can get overwhelmed and overstimulated by too many items out all at once. I always talk to parents about toy rotation at home and I encourage storage and ‘tidy up’ of toys so that we can increase attention focus, and also maintain freshness and new interest in older toys.

Some children are not yet ready to play with toys

Here I suggest people games: these are games where the adult becomes part of a more motor-based activity. Some call it ‘rough and tumble play’ but it can be nursery rhymes such as sleeping bunnies/row row the boat or peek-a-boo for the younger ones.

Copy/Imitation is so important – try getting two identical or similar play items

When we are copying our child, it is often not desirable to ‘take turns’ with their toys/blogs/cars etc as our child may not be ready to let us take a turn. Instead, if we have the exact same toy that our child is having then we can play alongside our child and copy them perfectly without interrupting their play.


Murray, D., Lesser, M., & Lawson, W. (2005). Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism. Autism9(2), 139-156.

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Rethinking the PECS Approach

Rethinking the PECS Approach

I want to talk about some concerns of SLTs, parents and increasingly autistic adults who explain to us how this communication method did not really work so well and why.

What is PECS in a nutshell:

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is based on the idea of exchanging pictures in return for desired items. For more advanced users, it is used to communicate different functions such as emotions, comments, negations using the exchange of a sentence strip. It was founded on the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA).

How does that look in practice?

In my experience, having been trained in the approach myself, the overall aim is eventually for the child to spontaneously go and get their picture book (PECS book), open it, look through a range of pages to select the correct picture of what they want to have or say, then go and find their communication partner, and finally place that picture onto the communication partner’s outstretched palm to be rewarded with an item or with a response of some sort. Or the child selects a range of pictures to create a little sentence, such as: ‘the blue fish swims in the sea’, ‘the red bird flies in the sky’ or ‘I see a red bird’ for example. This can be part of a structured table top activity.

The system follows a series of phases, starting from simple picture exchanges to eventually construction of sentences using symbols. PECS’s aim is to promote communication initiation and reduce frustration for those who struggle with speech.

So far so good one might say, why not? Before I go into the various concerns, I would want to add my own working experience with PECS, and whilst it is my opinion, I would say I have NEVER seen a working PECS book being used spontaneously!

My experience

I have seen attempts of stages 1 and 2 done quite well, in schools, and where people knew that I was coming in “to have a look at how PECS is working with child X”. Yes, in those instances an effort was made of course to try and show me how it worked. I must add that have never been very impressed. I cannot recall it used for any other items than: biscuits/quavers/crisps/ raisins and bubbles/puzzle pieces or spinners.

If we want to see a child trained to exchange for these items in a structured setting, i.e., the child sits at a little table with the adult sitting opposite enticing the child with one or other item, then yes that can be done successfully. I have seen children exchange 25 pictures with a crisp on it, for said crisp and they might have asked for another 25 of those crisps given half the chance. Yes. Good. But. I have yet to see a child go to their PECS book and go through all the motions that I mentioned above to get a crisp. In school they don’t need to: they know that crisps are only available when the PECS book is being practised. Otherwise, let’s be honest, it’s fruit at 10.30 am!

So, they don’t get a spontaneous opportunity to ask for highly motivating items as that is not how school works, is it? ‘SIR! Can I have a crisp?’ At 10.02am, in the middle of maths? Didn’t think so… So in reality this does not get practised in my experience.

A few concerns in no particular order:

Limited Generalisation

One issue often raised is the limited generalisation of skills learned through PECS. The structured nature of the program may result in a child only being able to communicate effectively within the specific contexts where they were taught to use the system (as I suggest above: crisps: yes, please let’s do the PECS for it). This limitation can pose challenges when trying to apply communication skills in new or unstructured/spontaneous situations.

Lack of Spontaneity

Critics suggest that PECS can sometimes lead to scripted and less spontaneous communication. This is also what I have observed. Since the method is designed to follow a structured progression, there is a concern that individuals might struggle to initiate communication outside of the established framework, potentially hindering their ability to engage in more natural interactions.

Narrow range of communication functions being practised

While PECS is quite successful in focusing on requesting and naming items, there are many other important communication functions, such as expressing emotions, asking questions, giving opinions or greetings for instance. We can argue that a communication core board where we have a whole range of different core words available lends itself much better to practising a range of communicative functions.

The Pictures are movable

They are attached to the book via Velcro. They are constantly being picked and exchanged and then returned to the book. This means that the pictures tend to be always in different places. This goes against the motor planning that takes place when one is learning a new skill: imagine you want to learn to touch type and the letters always move and are at different places? How can you be quick about finding a letter? You can never get to “automatic” with this type of approach.

Communication is not taught via behavioural means

Only if you say “banana” in the way that I dictate that you should will you get a piece of banana. Who does that? Nobody. Typically, child points to the counter where there is a banana and says: ‘ba’ or ‘ana’ and mother/carer will look over there and say ‘oh banana! You want a banana? Ok there you go have a piece.’ Or something like it. Mother will not say: ‘SAY BANANA or else you won’t get it.’ Child hears mum saying ‘Banana’ each time and with time will point and say ‘banana’ or ‘I want-a-nana’ or something. This is how communication is learned: through the adult modelling it cheerfully all day long and the child hearing it and then gradually copying it.

One other gripe I personally have but I am reliably informed by all my parents that they share this about PECS:


There are 10, 50, 100’s of little pictures that first of all need laminating… then velcroing, then finding and replacing. As I said above, it’s a constant moveable feast for one, but also you LOSE them. Yep. You want to find the picture for “trampoline”. ‘Where is it? I saw it yesterday… We had it outside when we practised you asking for the trampoline. I am sure we put it back? Where is it??? Ok. We need to print off a new one.’

It is also labour intensive for the first stage where you need to have TWO adults to ease the exchange (pick up and release of picture into the communication partner’s hand). Who has two adults available for what can be weeks until the child is able to pick up and release by themselves?

YEP. So it’s really not for me you can tell! I much prefer Core boards (see my previous post on using one) or electronic speech generating AAC devices like GRID, or LAMP or TOUCHCHAT. These are all great to use and there is good support out there for introducing these.

Finding a Balance

While the concerns surrounding the PECS approach are valid, it’s fair to note that the method also has some merits. There is anecdotal evidence of many individuals who have successfully improved their communication skills and quality of life through PECS. But, finding a balance between using PECS as a stepping stone and ensuring the development of more comprehensive and SPONTANEOUS communication is key.

As educators and therapists, we need to extend the focus beyond requesting and labelling by incorporating symbols that represent emotions, actions, and more complex ideas. This expansion encourages a broader range of communication functions. When the time is right, gradually transitioning from PECS to more advanced communication methods such as Core boards or electronic AAC tools and speech-generating devices is the way forward.

We want to value all communication equally and our approach ought to be playful and child-led and to focus on intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards and reinforcers.

If you have any questions or if you are looking for a therapist who endorses play-based and child-led therapy approaches, please do reach out.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Connecting with children in Speech and Language Therapy

Connecting with children in Speech and Language Therapy

A deep and meaningful relationship

In the realm of Speech and Language Therapy, connecting with a child goes far beyond the mechanics of language and articulation. It’s about fostering a deep, meaningful relationship that nurtures growth, builds confidence, and unlocks the potential for effective communication.

As Speech and Language Therapists we embrace this art and invest in building authentic connections. We want to pave the way for children to embark on a path of communication success that will resonate throughout their lives.

Establishing rapport and trust is the foundation upon which effective communication and progress are built. In this blog, we explore the significance of making a connection with a child as an integral part of Speech and Language Therapy. We look at strategies, benefits, and the transformative impact it can have on a child’s journey to communication success.

The importance of connection

Every child is a unique individual with their own personality, experiences, and challenges. Recognising and respecting these individual differences lay the groundwork for forming a connection that goes beyond the clinical setting. A strong therapeutic alliance encourages a child to open up, engage actively in sessions, and make greater strides in their speech, language and communication development.

Strategies I use for establishing connection

Face to Face:

I always aim to get down and dirty: I sit on the floor with a child or at a low level so that it is easy for a child to look at me, even for a brief moment, here and there. When sitting at a table I position the child so that they can make eye contact with me should they be so inclined. Important: not every child wants to make eye contact! We must not be too focused on a child looking at our face or into our eyes. Sometimes some individuals find this disconcerting and off putting. They would rather look at what they are doing, and that does not mean that they are not aware of you or not listening!

Active listening:

I devote my full attention to the child. This demonstrates that they are important and that I am genuinely interested in their world. This is not always possible for longer periods of time, but I aim for 3-10 minutes of top-quality time before I might have a little break. I would encourage all parents and caregivers to try this out for 1 , then 2, then 3 minutes: turn off your phone and be 100% with your child no matter what. You will see your child really appreciates your undivided attention.

Shared interests:

I try to discover and engage in activities, topics, or hobbies that resonate with the child.

Play-based learning:

Play is a big part of all Speech and Language Therapy sessions. This is because it is a child’s natural mode of communication and all learning comes through play and fun.

Respect for autonomy:

Encouraging a child’s autonomy is important. Where possible, I involve children in decision-making about session goals, activities, and approaches. This also makes sessions more motivating for the child.

As the connection strengthens, communication barriers begin to dissolve. Children are more inclined to take risks (challenges that are within their reach), try new sounds or words, and explore new ways of doing things.

Long-term progress:

A solid connection sets the stage for ongoing progress. The child is more likely to continue practicing and engaging in speech, language and communication exercises outside of therapy, leading to sustained improvements.

The transformation that can occur through a strong therapeutic connection is nothing short of remarkable. A child who once hesitated to communicate might now eagerly share their thoughts and ideas. Those struggling with speech sounds before might gain the confidence to practise them frequently and thus master them. The bond forged between the child and the Speech and Language Therapist becomes a source of motivation, encouragement, and resilience.

Please get in touch!

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

The importance of child-led therapy

The importance of child-led therapy

Child-led therapy is essentially what it says, therapy sessions that are directed by your child. You may think how can my child’s Speech and Language Therapist focus on goals if sessions are led by my child.

Let us explain…

Your child will be more receptive and motivated to take part in therapy if they have some form of input. E.g., they can choose what toys they want to play with, or how they want to play with the resources available. If sessions are child-centred then they are much more likely to engage and reach their goals, making intervention valuable. They will also be able to regulate their emotions, and use movement to support their need for regulation. E.g., some children like to jump whilst others like to run. As Speech and Language Therapists we need to use what is meaningful to your child to get the most out of intervention. By focusing on child-led therapy, we can build trust, which will allow us, in time, to use new techniques and activities that your child may enjoy. We want children to be themselves, to show their true personality. Therapy is about enhancing their skills in their own individualised way and child-led therapy allows for this.

This way of working may seem daunting to some, but it doesn’t have to feel this way. Parents often feel if they are prepared then activities may go smoother. It might be the case, but perhaps it doesn’t give your child the opportunity for spontaneity. We’d like to suggest something that may lead to some surprises. Put out an activity that is your child’s favourite and then a completely new activity. Remember these activities don’t have to be complicated. Often, the simpler the better!

So, no need to plan, just place two activities out and see what happens! Look out for anything which surprises you, which activity did they prefer? Do they have any sensory preferences? The freedom of choice is a wonderful thing to explore. So, just go with the flow!

The kind of activities that are useful for child-led play can include:

  • Hide and seek
  • Cooking or baking
  • An Exercise ball
  • Small world play
  • Pretend play
  • Musical instruments (you could even have a go at making your own)

Child-led therapy is a very useful resource. We have it at our fingertips. We don’t need special resources. You just need yourselves and your child! Sometimes, child-led therapy can be tricky to put in place. It sounds easy but is much harder in reality. So, make sure you give it time and reflect on your experiences. Ask yourselves ‘what went well’, and ‘what could be improved’. E.g., perhaps you gave your child time to lead to begin with, but you didn’t give them enough time to think about their options during the activity.

How can parents become more child-led in the home environment?

  • Pause and use silence. This gives your child the opportunity to lead.
  • It’s perfectly natural to want to talk. Afterall, this is how adults maintain conversations. If you find yourself talking too much, count to ten! This will allow your child time to respond or initiate in the conversation or interaction.
  • Move down to your child’s level. It’s much easier to see what’s going on if you’re at the same height.
  • Videoing you and your child can really help you to see where your strengths lie. You’ll also be able to make minor tweaks to improve your communication during child-led play.

Contact Sonja for more advice on speech, language and communication during child-led play.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.