We wanted every child to be able to talk, use meaningful sentences and tell stories. However, before having all those abilities, every child must have pre-requisite skills before they can actually talk. So, to all the parents, teachers and therapist, we have to make sure that they don’t skip any of these steps. If we go straight to trying to teach our children how to talk without working on the pre-requisite skills, then we are teaching them something that they aren’t ready. Speech is a cognitive ability, so their brains haven’t really worked out on those foundational skills.
Below are the skills that our children must have before they can realistically start talking.
- Response to event in environment
- This means that your child is aware of what’s happening around them. If there’s something that dropped, they would hear the sound. If there is a construction around the neighborhood, they would notice it. If their tower block knocked down, they would show a facial expression and a change in body language.
- Response to people
- This is when their names are called, they would turn their heads and look at you. They would have a different response to an angry voice or a friendly voice. Let’s say mom called in an angry voice, this would indicate that maybe they did something and thus will make them respond on the tune of a person’s voice.
- Develops an Attention Span
- Many kids are very active. They’re attention span is very short. This also goes for the typically-developing children. We expect their attention to be from 3-6 minutes (toddler age). If there are attentive for more than 6 minutes, it means they are really enjoying the activity. If you find that your child is not able to attend to an activity, then the attention skill needs to be worked on. This is because they need the focus to learn and the attention should be there.
- Joined Attention
- This is when an adult or a peer plus the child, is attending to the same object. It’s the back and forth flow of interaction. One best is example is passing of the ball. When the child is looking at the ball and at the person, as the child passes the ball, the attention is there. Likewise, when the ball is passed to the child, there would be focus on the ball and the same time, eye contact with the person passing the ball. This is not just about the ball. When the child is object focused, that no matter how you make your moves bigger and there is no eye-contact or engagement then joined attention is not there.
- Plays with Toys
- Toys are very important to the children. This is how they learn. This is how they do problem solving, identify the cause and effects and this is how they create imaginative pictures in their head. They should be playing functionally which means they are playing the toys according to their uses. Let’s say for telephone, they would put it by the ears and not shake it. This is where pretend play takes place. For toys cars, very simple, its rolling back and forth. If you see your child rolling the wheels of the car, staring at the car or waving it back and forth in the air, that is not appropriate playing. The play has to be there before we can expect them to talk.
- Understands the use of Early Gestures
- Early gestures are natural movements that we do when talking to our child. If you want to show something, we use our pointer finger for them to identify the object. If you point on to something and they recognized it, it means they understood your gesture. If you are looking for something and you say, “Oh, where did it go?” while you put both of your hands at the side, it would give them the idea to look around because the gesture shows you are looking for something. Another good example is when you open your arms in front of them, this would give them the idea that you will carry them up. If they put their hands up, it means yes. If they look somewhere else, it means they don’t want. If you open your hand out to your child, this would give them the idea that you want something from them. However, there is a difference with compliance and understanding. You would know if the child understands or the child simple don’t want to follow.
- Understands early words and follows simple directions
- Examples of early words are: eat, drink, bath, mom, dad, etc. If they hear those words, you would recognize a reaction from them. Different reactions mean they have the understanding for each of these early words. Be it either said through a word or a sentence, they should be able to recognize the words. Children should follow through and show understanding. So, when you say, “Where is mom? Mama?” naturally, the child looks for the mom.
- This is when your child is making sound. All typically-developing children are babbling and will eventually turn into real words. Before we expect those real words, we need to be hearing sounds. The sounds should have an intention. You’ll be able to identify if they are happy, upset or angry just hearing the sounds they are making. When they go running to you and make a sound with a tone and facial expression, they are telling you that they need something, or they want something. We are looking for those sounds before hearing the real words. Some children might initially babble and makes sound then eventually gets lesser and lesser. We should be attending to it. Regression is not typical. Usually for toddler age, we would see rapid progression and growth of words.
- Imitates Actions, Gestures & Words
- If the words aren’t there yet, we would see that our children can imitate gestures or actions. We can be creative and be a little dramatic when doing gestures so that our children can notice it. This would give them idea that these gestures actually mean something. Give more to them. Use your hands to communicate with them. They can use their hands to communicate too. You can let your child copy simple actions like clapping, waving or blowing a kiss. Involve them in your daily activities. If they see you stirring your cup of coffee, you can see your children doing the same movement. If they do it with their teacup toys, there is already a transfer of learning and functional play. That is our goal, for them to give their attention and eventually copy or imitate us. The cycle goes from actions to gestures and then words.
10 . Initiates Interactions with people
- Usually children would initiate interaction to those who are close to them. This means that they go to you to get attention, to vocalize, to play a game. This show that they are interested in you, they’re aware that you are there. When they go to you, hold your hand and points to something, they are initiating. Simply when they see you and they make a sound and run to you, this means they want to play with you.