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Communication With Children Should Start Even Before Their Speech Develops

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

-Importance of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC)

What is communication?

Conveying our needs, thoughts, and ideas to another by means of verbal and non-verbal methods is called communication. In babies, communication develops right from the time they are in the womb, even before the child is born, and even before it starts speaking. That is why we are often asked to talk to our babies by our doctors and elders when we are pregnant.

Reading aloud, singing, and talking to the baby when it is in the womb establishes early communication and the child even responds by kicking. It also develops a familiarity with its mother’s voice right from birth.

Developmental communication milestones in babies

Research states that learning experiences during the first 3 years of a child’s life are pivotal for later brain development (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007).

Communication starts even before the child can speak their first words and these skills can continue to develop right from infancy to the age of 5.

3 to 6 months
  • Smiles back when you smile at them

  • Moves arms and legs when excited.

  • Can watch and follow a toy move from side to side.

  • Looks at you to interact and looks away when it's too much.

  • Tries to grab an object when offered.

  • Shifts attention from you to an object and back to you

7 to 12 months
  • Shifts attention towards you when you talk or gesture.

  • Makes gestures like waving, shaking, and nodding the head.

  • Explores objects and repeats different actions with objects.

  • Lets you know what they want and don't want.

  • Notices you and what you're looking at.

  • Eager to interact and helps keep the interaction going.

  • Points to objects using hand gestures.

12 - 24 months
  • Learns new actions with objects by watching and imitating.

  • Can communicate to share enjoyment and interests.

  • Can make it clear when they do not "want" something or do not want "to do" something.

  • Uses symbolic gestures to share ideas.

  • Pretends using actions with imagined things from less familiar activities.

  • Persists in communicating the message.

  • Points to familiar pictures from a book.

Why should communication skills be given more importance over speech skills?

Meaningful interactions between a child and their caregiver provide critical learning experiences that form the foundation of the child’s development. (Sameroff & Fiese, 2000).

Not all children may reach the speech milestones on time. Many children are late bloomers and speech may be delayed. Such children and their parents may find communication challenging. Hence non-verbal communication is very important and certain gestures should be taught for basic communication to the child to help them communicate their basic needs while at the same time making it easier for the parents and caregivers to understand what the child is trying to convey.

What can we do if the child is a late bloomer?

When communication is dependent only on verbal cues, children who are late talkers may develop behavioral issues like temper tantrums out of anger or frustration for being unable to express themselves. This mostly happens because the parents may have not given them an alternative medium to communicate because they were so focused on building speech. Hitting, biting, and throwing a tantrum can become common behavioral patterns with peers and siblings as they are not able to convey what they want.

When a child is not speaking or is a late bloomer the parents start focusing on the lack of speech rather than keeping the communication going with other modes. This also happens when children are non-verbal or minimally verbal. This is where AAC comes into play.

What is AAC?

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Communication devices, systems, strategies, and tools that replace or support natural speech are known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). These tools, systems, devices, or strategies can support communication and should be incorporated from early childhood.

According to research, access to AAC beginning at 16 months of age has been found to benefit children with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and unspecified developmental delays.

There may be various other reasons why a child may not be able to communicate using speech which may include a developmental disability or a disorder that has affected the person’s ability to speak. These children with communication difficulties, speech impediments, and disorders can benefit from AAC.

What are the 3 Types of AAC?

Unaided communication systems

These rely on the user's body to convey messages. E.g. Facial expressions, Body language, Gestures, and Sign language.

Aided communication systems

These require the use of tools or equipment in addition to the user's body. E.g. Symbol boards, Choice cards, Communication books, PODD books, Keyboards, and alphabet charts.

Electronic communication aids

These allow the user to use picture symbols, letters, and/or words and phrases to create messages. E.g., Speech-generating devices or communication devices, AAC apps on mobile devices.

Poor communication can be detrimental to a child’s self-esteem and social interactions. It can affect their relationships with the family and may also result in poor literacy skills and delayed language development as per some studies.

Hence communication should have a multi-modal approach, and not depend solely on verbal means.

To know more about ACC, schedule an appointment with us at 9962864000.



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