My child is not talking: Pre-cursors to speech


Given the popularity of the article I wrote on speech development, I feel that it is important to also discuss the precursors to speech as these form the foundation for early speech development.

As soon as your child is born, he or she is trying to communicate with you and the world around them. Every time your child cries, reaches for an object/person or looks at you is an attempt to communicate with you. These are all precursors to speech. This article will be focusing on reach and eye contact while crying will be discussed in another article.

It is important to first understand the primary functions of reaching and eye contact. Instinctively, when your child wants to obtain a desirable object or person, he or she will likely reach for it. If, however, they cannot reach it, they will usually look for help to obtain the object. As you can see, these forms of communication are used when a child is requesting on an item or action. With this in mind, we can start to teach words by simply naming the object of action as your child reaches or looks at you before you hand it over.

Over a short period of time, your child will associate particular words with different objects and actions. To elicit a sound or word, simply withhold the desired object/action a bit longer and look expectantly at your child even though he or she might be reaching/looking at you. You can also say the word without giving the object as a cue for your child to repeat the word. To speed up the process give the object/action in smaller but more frequent amounts. For example, a biscuit can be broken up into smaller amounts or lego pieces can be given one at a time. Once your child is using single words to request on items and actions, use the one-up rule to continue to teach your child more words.

It must be mentioned that I prefer not to teach the word “more” until your child has learnt the name of the object or action as this will prevent the common situation where a child will only use “more” instead of the object/action name. This then tends to spread across to different objects and actions until everything becomes “more”.

Example scenario:

Timmy is sitting at the dinner table with his father John. They are about to have an afternoon snack. John has placed a container of grapes on the table. He opens the container of grapes and holds out a grape for Timmy who reaches for it. Before John gives Timmy the grape, he says “grape!”.

After Timmy finishes the first grape, John holds out another grape for him. Timmy reaches for it but John continues to hold onto the grape and looks at Timmy expectantly. Timmy realises his father has not released the grape and looks up at him. John releases the grape and says “grape!”. He repeats this step two more times and notices that Timmy is now looking at him at a much quicker and more frequent rate.

On the next turn, John decides to increase his expectations of Timmy. He now wants Timmy to vocalise “grape”. To do this, John withholds the grape even though Timmy is reaching and looking at him. Timmy doesn’t vocalise so John gives him a hint by looking expectantly and saying “g-“. This prompts Timmy to say “gape”; an approximation of “grape”. John repeats “grape!” excitedly and gives Timmy a grape.



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