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Five Developmental Skills Your Child Needs For Effective Communication

Updated: Jun 30, 2021


Developmental intervention follows the stages of development for skills in all areas of speech and language development. For example, babbling helps children learn to make speech sounds, which they later combine into words, which they later combine into phrases and sentences.


No matter what specific skill we are working on, we want to make sure we are building those skills on a foundation of effective social communication. Skills that make up this foundation include:

  1. Joint attention

  2. Imitation

  3. Social engagement

  4. Active learning

  5. Social relationship


Joint attention is the skill of looking at the same thing another person is looking at. Children need to notice the other person’s face and be able to tell where that person is looking. They look back and forth from the object to the person, sharing in the experience of that object. They learn about the object by looking at it, and also by how the person is reacting to it.


When you think about it, it’s easy to see how joint attention is similar to sharing a topic in a conversation. Children respond to the other person’s topic by reacting to what that person is looking at. They learn to start an interaction by pointing to get someone to look. They can continue the interaction with actions about the thing they are both paying attention to.


Imitation is the skill of observing and doing what someone else is doing. It’s important for learning most skills, including gestures, speech sounds and words. We start teaching imitation by first imitating things a child is doing, within fun back-and-forth exchanges. After they get good at doing familiar actions, gestures or sounds, children learn to imitate things they’ve never seen or done before. When children enjoy imitating, they do it more often and use it independently to try out new skills.


Imitation is an important part of social learning. We want children to learn to notice what other people are doing, because there is important information there. When we teach imitation in natural interactions, they learn to notice these opportunities for learning all throughout the day.


Social engagement is taking part in a back-and-forth exchange with another person. It can also be called joint activity, as both people are doing the same thing together. Activities can be as simple as playing peek-a-boo or passing a toy back and forth, and as advanced as having a conversation or telling a joke.


We want children to learn that they enjoy sharing activities and interactions with people. The more that children want to stay in back-and-forth social exchanges, the more opportunities they have to learn from others. As they get older, children who are good at social engagement learn to engage with others using finger plays, songs, games, conversations and stories.


Active learning is trying out experiences to see what happens and figure out how things work. Children are the original scientists—making observations, thinking about why and how, testing it out, finding out what happens and acting on the results. We want children to know they are in charge of their learning, understand what they know, and make decisions about what they want to learn.


Learning language involves much more than learning what words mean. Children learn the full meaning of words and how to use them when they actually participate in activities with another person. In real-life contexts, children test out what they think words mean and make associations that help them organize and compare their ideas. This active learning helps them know when, where and why to use their words.


Social relationship includes understanding our own feelings and how to express them, as well as our knowledge about another person’s thoughts and feelings. Social relationships keep children engaged with others, and all language learning takes place in social interactions.


We want to strengthen the positive relationship between parents and children. We teach children and adults a broad variety of activities they can do to share their time together. This positive relationship is where children learn that they enjoy communication and want to share time and interests with others. Children’s social relationships keep them motivated to stay in the interactions where they can learn from others during their daily activities. GET MY DETAILED CHECKLIST of communication development from no words to two-word sentences. Includes examples of how to support your child's communication at each stage.

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Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

- AUTUMN MARSHALL, PARENT