Joint attention...tick!

Joint attention…tick!

Most parents have two big milestones in mind – first steps and first words.  Being a speech pathologist, I feel like I can comment on the latter!

The thing about first words, is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’.  Some children come out with a word well before 12 months, whilst others take a fair bit longer.  Really, before two years of age, anything goes……

Differences in development

  • Children’s brains can only focus on developing so many things at once.  Some children head straight to the gross motor development, getting crawling, whilst others focus on communication and are very vocal and social, whilst others focus more on cognitive skills, sitting back and working out how the world works.  And some do a bit of each at the same time!  Have a think about your child’s strengths – are they simply developing another area of their brain?
  • Children have personalities from the very beginning.  The extrovert baby will most likely ‘show’ their communication skills more than an introvert, who might understand everything and be taking it all in, but may not be as vocal.  Where does your baby fit?

Early skills

  • Babbling is a good indicator of future speech, particularly using different sounds – mama, baba, dada.  Is your little one babbling and are they making consonant sounds?  (ie baba, mama, dada not just
  • There are some important early communication skills that come before speech – eye contact, motor imitation (copying actions such as banging, throwing, waving), pointing and joint attention.  Joint attention is when your child focuses their attention on something (say a toy or book) but acknowledges that you are there too by looking back at you as if to say ‘this is fun’ or ‘wow did you see that’ or even ‘hey I need some help with this’.  If your child has any difficulty with any of these by 12 months, it is definitely time to start thinking about a visit to the paediatrician, even just to monitor them.
  • How much does your child understand?  Language doesn’t just involve talking but primarily understanding words, before using them.  Before words, children start taking in their surroundings and learning about the routines that happen each day.  Does your child understand what is happening in their day?  For example, after dinner they have a bath; when Mummy picks up the keys, they are about to go in the car.  Does your child understand a simple question, for example, ‘where’s Daddy?’, ‘where’s ball?’, ‘where’s dog?’.

The sign test

  • Start teaching your little one a couple of signs, for things that THEY might want or find fun to communicate back to you.  This might be ‘more’, ‘bath’, ‘drink’ or a word that relates to their interests, such as ‘ball’, ‘book’, ‘bird’, ‘dog’, or ‘music’.  Most children don’t need to sign the word ‘eat’, as generally their parents are offering them food before they would really need to ask for it.  You can find signs (in Australia) at  Here is an I raise my kids post with far more detail about getting started with signing.  Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not?…  And have a look at our sign of the week each Friday!
  • After 12 months of age, a child shouldn’t take more than a month or two to understand the sign and start signing back to you.  If they can learn to sign back to you, it will show you that they can and want to communicate.  This may hint at a speech problem, which means their brain is having trouble getting their mouth to make sounds and words (particularly if they haven’t babbled too much).  This is where signing becomes important to help your child communicate whilst they are learning to use speech.  If your child is using several signs really well and still no speech, this would be a good time to start looking into finding a speech pathologist. See another I raise my kids post, ‘We’re off to a Speechie – Finding a Brilliant One’.

Personally, I have worked with a good few children who have not been saying much at around 15-18 months, but then have developed on quite normally after that.  I have also had several parents that have said they were a ‘late talker’, not saying much at two but have ‘turned out fine’!  Ask around for how you developed, as late talkers do seem to run in families.

In the coming posts, I will give many tips to consider trying with your child to ensure they are being given the best ‘language environment’ to help them to learn to communicate.  Firstly, have a look at my post ‘You’re off to Brazil’ to have a think about what it is like to learn another language.  Your child is going through a similar experience and so it helps to take that into consideration when communicating with them (husbands and other family members too!).

If you have tried the strategies (that I will post about soon) and signing and there is still little speech by 18 months, I would start thinking about contacting a speech pathologist (there can be waiting lists) and also maybe a paediatrician, so that you can be on top of things by the time they are two.  Early intervention is the best thing that you can do!

Please comment if you have any other questions or would like more information on anything here.  🙂 Heidi