Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum




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Connect With Your Students Who Use Echolalia And Watch Them Grow!

This ground-breaking book will show you how to:

  • Recognize the meaning and intentions behind echolalia.

  • Support autistic students from echolalia to self-generated language.

  • Bring this information to families and your school teams.

“Marge's work will revolutionize your thinking about your child's language and help you understand the depth of meaning behind it!” – M.S., SLP

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Also See: NLA Training Series

Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum introduces us to 'invisible' echolalia, the kind we barely pay attention to in our typically-developing youngsters. It slips under the radar, and we think nothing of it. But in autism, it's really late. And obvious. And seemingly pervasive. And that's the subject of this ground-breaking book. Echolalia in our autistic children is just like the 'typical' variety, just later, much later. The good news, though, is that it communicates, and it jump-starts language development!

Echolalia unscripted! Echolalia communicates!

And it jump-starts our students' natural language development!

Read this book, and you will learn all you need to know to understand your students who use echolalia. You will learn to listen for meaning, to present language at the right level, and to support your students towards the next steps of NATURAL language development.

Research determined decades ago that kids who use echolalia are communicating — and jump-starting their journey towards self-generated language. NLA builds on that foundation and reports the progress of students over time. It tells the real stories of real kids and empowers professionals and parents to track the heart and meaning of children's expression. It gives professionals and parents the freedom to 'be there' with children — to truly listen and to converse in a form that is meaningful to each child.

Natural Language Acquisition - Speech Therapy
“This book feels very personal, but it's bigger than that – it is profound and awe-inspiring.” – K.L., SLP

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NLA does this by acknowledging echolalia as a stage of language development: the one a child is ready for as we shape and support it towards the stages of language development. No longer are we tempted to 'teach' language like a skill. Now we can grow language as true development, natural development: Natural Language Acquisition.

As we learn to implement the principles of natural language acquisition, kids make progress, true, developmental progress. When we tune into the intent of a child's language, the regulatory needs of the child, and the child's life context, we can provide appropriate support for real language development.

Open your mind to a new understanding: our autistic kids are communicating with us! They are doing their best, at their language-development level! And they will be able to develop more sophisticated forms of communication with you as their guide.

Open this book, and share it with the others who support your students on this ride of life.


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What's Included

Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum


"Mrs. Carter, I know of a woman who is quite different in her approach to kids like your son. You may want to just visit her clinic and see how it feels as a next step in caring for Ben.” I walked into Marge’s clinic and the sun came out. The place was covered in color: layers and layers of lycra hang from the ceiling, swings and platforms, slides and huge pillows everywhere. Mirrors and TV monitors, rooms of toys and kids running all around with smiling adults who appear to be having such fun.

As a family, we had exhausted every mode of therapy for our boy with autism and in the process, had exhausted him, our resources, and ourselves. Ben was frustrated, angry and bottled up tight as a drum. I scheduled a visit with Marge for Ben. He walked into “Marge’s” and the magic began to bloom from his insides out.

I asked Marge early on, “Is there any way you can make him stop that blasted movie talk? He is making me nuts!” Marge grinned and, with a twinkle in her eye, said, “That boy is brilliant and he is talking to you!” From the depths of my heart, I had no idea what she was talking about—and did I just hear a professional say my son was brilliant? I have heard them say retarded, stunted, slow like molasses, autistic, speech delayed and disabled, but this woman is grinning at me, winking at Ben, and calling him brilliant.

A few sessions pass with Marge and Brilliant Ben. I truly had no clue what they were doing together, but I do know that Ben ran down the hall, up the steps and down another hall as fast as he could to get to “Marge’s,” and he did not want anyone to interrupt them when they were together.

In a few short sessions, a change comes over Benjamin the Brilliant: for the very first time in his young life, he made a human connection! Marge owned a knowledge of Ben that captivated him, propelled him to therapy, settled him, and inspired him. Marge was magical with Ben and he could not get enough of her. As the mama, I ask myself, “What on earth are they doing in there?” It was loud, it was messy, a lot of banging and singing and bouncing and most of all, it was a whole lot of fun for that kid. Marge was laughing and my Ben was shining and grinning and changing.

We found a very mysterious help in this woman when brilliant Ben met his friend and teacher, “Marge’s.” Our life as a family was about to improve drastically. If I had known that we would find Marge, I would not have cried so long and so hard and so often all those previous years! Brilliant Ben—she called my Ben ‘brilliant’—imagine: brilliant.

Read on. You will discover the mystery.

L.C., Parent

Natural Language Acquisition Book (NLA)

Natural Language - Speech Therapy Resources

Target Audience

For SLPs, Educators and Parents working with autistic children ages 2 to 20 years old.

This book is useful:

  • As guidance for parents and educators.
  • As a textbook for classes in language development.
  • As a resource book for Speech-Language Pathologists.

It includes information to assess and support language development in children who use echolalia, from the beginning stages to the advanced stages of language development.

From assessment protocol and treatment planning to inspiring stories, catchy illustrations, and extensive language samples, this book has everything needed to guide students through the stages of Natural Language Acquisition!


Marge Blanc, MA, CCC-SLP, is the Director of the Communication Development Center (CDC) in Madison, Wisconsin, the non-profit clinic she founded in 1997. Until two years ago, CDC provided individualized physical and linguistic support for neurotypical and neuro-divergent children and young adults with complex communication profiles. Now CDC is the center of a growing international effort to share research and resources about gestalt language development.

Marge began combining clinical practice and clinical research in 1994 after she met her first autistic client as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin. Recognizing his ‘delayed echolalia,’ Marge delved into the work of Barry Prizant, Ann Peters, and other qualitative researchers who had documented gestalt language processing (GLP) as a way of processing language naturally — and outlined the stages of gestalt language development. After her client followed the stages in the way predicted by Prizant, Marge decided to follow Prizant’s recommendation to conduct research to describe that process in detail. Founding her clinic in 1997, Marge continued to document how GLPs develop language from ‘delayed echolalia’ to self-generated language. Marge coined the term Natural Language Acquisition (NLA) to describe that process, and to emphasize the fact that ‘echolalia’ is not a pathology and should be recognized as the first stage of gestalt language development.

Marge first used the term ‘NLA’ in 2005 when she published the article, “Finding the Words: to Tell the Whole Story,” based on the case study of her first autistic GLP. Marge continued her clinical research until 2010, and assembled her findings in the book, Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: the Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language, published in 2012. Endorsed by Prizant as “the most comprehensive consideration of echolalia and language characteristics of persons with autism to date,” the NLA book is known as a “seminal work” that “brings us back to a crucial understanding of language characteristics and language acquisition in ASD…” (Prizant, 2015)

NLA describes the first four stages of gestalt language development identified by Prizant, adds the two additional stages researchers had identified as further grammar development, and quantifies the developmental process. NLA can be used in assessment, measuring progress, and supporting the process of gestalt language development. The NLA book became the sourcebook for the courses, the presentations, and the resources that now have proliferated.

Along with Prizant and two other colleagues, Marge presented NLA at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in 2014. Lillian Stiegler was in that audience, and recognizing the significance of NLA, this seasoned CSD professor wrote an AJSLP review article bringing NLA to the academic community in 2015. Marge then authored several NLA presentations and workshops on NLA in 2016, and these steps spawned a movement that is now taking NLA into countries in North, South, and Central America, Europe, and Asia. Marge’s pioneering research is helping SLPs, SLTs, and other speech and language professionals understand that echolalia is meaningful communication, and the first stage in the journey towards self-generated language.

Marge is the author of three online continuing education programs offered through Northern Speech Services: Natural Language Acquisition in Autism: From Echolalia to Self-Generated Language (Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3). Her most recent course adds crucial insights to the foundational courses of Levels 1 and 2, and dives deep into the stages of Natural Language Acquisition from Stage 1 (use of gestalts) to Stage 6 (use of complex grammar). Marge also presents regularly to school districts and other educational organizations, and provides networking and education for Speech-Language Pathologists through the CDC website, 

Presenter Disclosures:

Financial — Marge Blanc is a presenter of online CE courses sponsored by Northern Speech Services; royalties are received by the Communication Development Center.

Financial — Marge Blanc is the author of the book, "Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language"; she does not receive royalties, however, the non-profit Communication Development Center does.

Nonfinancial — Marge Blanc is the founder and director of the Communication Development Center (CDC) in Madison, WI; she does not receive any compensation in this role.

Customer Reviews

"I like all the tables that serve as a quick reference point and make information easy to find. As a Speech Language Pathologist, Chapter 6 is very helpful to me in terms of assessment. The Index section is also very well organized for finding information quickly."  – M.S., SLP

"I like how informative this book is for clinicians and parents."  – T.B., SLP

"Marge Blanc has put together an amazing resource for those supporting GLPs. This book was easy to read and full of information. This is a resource for therapists, and it recommends child-led play, sensory regulation strategies, and acknowledgment of both immediate and delayed echolalia. GLPs seem to love and respond positively to all of these."  – T.S., SLP

"I enjoyed the variety of case studies, the explanations of the research and theory behind gestalt language processing, and the guidance for SLPs. My GLP students respond so well to the therapeutic techniques. It's been really rewarding to see their faces light up when I tell them it's time for speech, and even more rewarding to hear them talk and use gestalts meaningfully." – V.L., SLP

"This book has a thorough explanation of how individuals with Autism develop language. My students like my ability to help them understand how to generate natural language through their gestalt." – A.B., SLP

"The book has a wealth of information regarding how students on the spectrum acquire language. Specific interest to me was the chapter on how to incorporate and build on scripting during language therapy sessions. My students like how their scripts can be used and built on to allow for communication to occur." – A.M., SLP

"I am using the ideas of NLA to connect with students on a new level and meet them where they are. Parents and teachers are often amazed and gratified to learn about the functions of echolalia and how it can be shaped and developed." – A.S., SLP

"I have several clients who have already made noticeable gains once we switched to this approach. My clients are getting more out of our sessions now that sensorimotor is addressed and we take a child-directed approach." – B.Z., SLP

"I use the NLA techniques during therapy sessions. It has helped me improve language facilitation with GLPs." – P.H., SLP

"I wouldn't change anything about the NLA book, It's just awesome." – R.K., SLP

"I love this book. It has totally changed the way I think about echolalia and scripted language." – C.D., SLP

"I now own two copies of this book and have read it in its entirety, and have read certain sections repeatedly...sometimes with tears in my eyes, because it is so beautiful. I integrated your work into my grad course in ASD this past July, and shared your writings and ideas with my students." – L.S., PhD-SLP

"This book feels very personal, but it's bigger than that: it is profound and awe-inspiring." – K.L., SLP

"A few weeks ago, someone recommended this book to me. I'm only halfway through, but it has really changed how I do therapy (or want to do therapy) with a couple of my kids!" – K.M., SLP

"I love this book! I loved reading it cover to cover: I was awed, and compelled, and interested, and emotional throughout the whole book. I loved learning this complex subject by seeing things so clearly laid out. This is the language course we missed in school—the one that will help us make sense of the kids we haven’t understood!

Marge has done an amazing job of taking an abstract subject, one that depends on other abstract subjects, and making it readable, understandable, and doable. Marge’s style feels like a natural conversation with the reader—which makes the reader want to take part in the conversation and do the exercises she has laid out. Marge’s book motivates us, teaches us, and tells us how to become the support to children that we want to be!

This is a reference book I will return to again and again because the words are so powerful and important for understanding our kids, recognizing how far they have come when they mitigate, and knowing how to help them continue towards developing generative language.

Thank you, Marge! This is such an essential book for every SLP and every parent of a child who uses echolalia!"

– L.W., SLP

"This book is a blessing for parents and SLPs! It gives us permission to focus on language development, which we are uniquely educated to appreciate and support. By her careful review of the literature, Marge reminds us that the documentation of children with ASD developing natural language is not new, and has been seen across time, children, and environments. But in our current educational climate, we are rarely afforded the time and permission to support students in the ways we know will matter to them as individuals with great potential.

As a public school SLP, I so often hear parents and teachers recognizing the limitations of “functional language programs,” passionately protesting: “But there’s so much more in there!” Now, with the principles of NLA explained and illustrated, we can outline programs of true language development for our students so they can express their own intentions—and find their own authentic voices.

Thank you! The book is marvelous!"

– K.S., SLP

"Natural Language Acquisition has changed the way I approach kids’ language treatment! As a hospital-based SLP, I find parents to be so in touch with their kids that I give them the theory and they provide me examples! This book feels very personal, but it’s bigger than that: it is profound and awe-inspiring.

Because of the Communication Development Center, there are people all over the country who are carrying seeds of change with them. I feel like a seed that has been watered, and I find that I am talking to my colleagues and families all the time about this exciting, but natural, approach.

There is a movement afoot that is fueled by Marge’s work."

– K.L., SLP

"As an SLP, I can feel parents’ uneasiness trying to carry out techniques that “teach” communication skills while trying to honor their personal relationship and bond with their own child. It has been a joy to share Natural Language Acquisition with parents and witness their excitement the first time they participate in a meaningful and reciprocal conversation with their child with ASD.

This book empowers parents and SLPs to fully appreciate and honor the language their children have, provides strategies and tools to facilitate further language development, and provides opportunities for families to experience mutually fulfilling and exciting communicative interactions. Approaching language development from the NLA perspectives facilitates understanding of the physical, environmental, and emotional supports for each child as well as an appreciation of their unique strengths. And there is nothing that warms the heart and motivates the spirit like seeing a child experience success."

– J.S., SLP

"Marge has brought together decades of research and clinical insight to develop this comprehensive look at the patterns of language development through which kids on the autism spectrum progress. Marge’s work will revolutionize your thinking about your child’s language and help you understand the depth of meaning behind it!"

– M.S., SLP

"Marge beautifully demonstrates how children develop language and how natural language development can be!

This is a ‘must read book’ for every parent who wants to understand how language development can be built into speech and language therapy. And it is the perfect book to help you decide the balance of approaches (play/ABA) you want for your child.

While the author intended this book primarily for families of kids on the autism spectrum, the concepts equally apply to language-delayed children who are gestalt learners, but who are not on the autism spectrum! As the mother of such a boy, I understand that echolalia is part of the learning style of very typically-developing children. I found that most people don’t know that, and think that echolalia equals autism—just like that!

This book helped me think through the stages of language development for my son, and I realized that the book was written for my son, too, and to help my family with its own journey! “

Thank you, Marge, for your wonderful work!"

– S.K., Parent

"Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language is a wonderful resource that provides the most comprehensive consideration of echolalia and language characteristics of persons with autism to date.

In this seminal work, Marge Blanc, an experienced clinician and clinical researcher, brings us back to a crucial understanding of language characteristics and language acquisition in ASD based on her deep understanding of language development from a social-pragmatic, child-centered perspective. Unfortunately, too many educators and therapists hold on to outdated and disproven perceptions of echolalia and gestalt language and attempt to 'treat' echolalia with a lack of knowledge of the historical context and research basis of our understanding of language development in ASD.

By looking at echolalia only through a behavioral lens of pathology rather than through a developmental perspective based on research on autism and typical development, such practices may actually be hindering functional language development. It is hoped that this important work will help educators, therapists and parents move to more contemporary understandings and practices.

This book is a 'must-read' for all who care about supporting social communication for persons with ASD based on research and sound clinical practice."

Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Adjunct Professor

Brown University

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