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Developmental Milestones: Communication
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The most intensive period for development of communication is the first three years of life. Language is both the expression and comprehension of words. It involves a set of rules that allow people to exchange thoughts, ideas, or emotions. Language can be expressed through writing, signing, gestures, speech, or other means of communication. Communication also involves hearing, which develops from the newborn stage to early childhood. Hearing should be checked at birth and into early childhood.

What follows are typical milestones for communication development in young children, as well as warning signs of possible delays. There is a wide range of typical development. However, follow up with a pediatrician if your child shows signs of delays. Many communication delays are spotted at the toddler ages.

Birth to Three Months

  • Turns head to the direction of a sound
  • Initially startles at loud noises
  • Smiles and quiets in response to a familiar voice
  • Recognizes and prefers mother’s or caregiver’s voice
  • Coos back and forth with caregiver; begins to babble
  • Laughs during play
  • Communicates mostly through crying, using different cries for hunger, discomfort, and pain
Three to Six Months
  • Responds to own name
  • Begins to imitate sounds
  • Produces vowel sounds of “eh,” “ah,” and “uh”
  • Produces consonant sounds of “g,” “k,” and “h”
  • Protests when desired objects are removed
Six to Twelve Months
By 9 months:
  • Imitates specific sounds
  • Makes sounds while playing with toys or mirror
  • Locates where sounds are coming from
  • Responds to simple requests, and to “no”
  • Vocalizes repetitive consonant–vowel combinations, such as “ba, ba”
By 12 months:
  • Tries to imitate animal sounds
  • Says “mama,” “dada,” and one or two other words
  • Makes exclamations, such as “uh oh”
  • Babbles with inflections
  • Understands several words and simple commands
  • Uses simple gestures, such as shaking the head for “no”
  • Enjoys hearing own voice
Twelve to Eighteen Months
By 15 months:
  • Understands and sometimes is able to point and identify objects
  • Understands one-step commands and may fulfill a request such as, “Go get your shoes.”
  • Says “bye-bye” at appropriate times
  • States “yes” and “no”
  • Uses words or signs to express needs
By 18 months:
  • Points to three body parts
  • Points to pictures or animals on request
  • Attempts to get objects by vocalizing or pointing
  • Imitates new words
  • Increases vocabulary to ten or more words
  • Begins to label one to two pictures with words
Eighteen to Twenty-four Months
By 21 months:
  • Communicates needs, such as of hunger, thirst, and use of the restroom or a diaper change
  • Imitates animal sounds
  • Uses “no” and “my”
By 24 months:
  • Decreases jargon speech and increases meaningful vocabulary to 50–300 words
  • Uses two-word combinations
  • Recognizes names of familiar objects, people, and body parts
  • Points to objects and pictures when named
  • Understands the difference between “me” and “you”
  • Follows simple requests
Two to Three Years
By 30 months:
  • Follows two- to three-step commands
  • Understands the difference between big and little
  • Likes to listen to stories
  • Begins to use some plurals, for example, “cars”
By 36 months:
  • Identifies almost all common objects
  • Understands most adult sentences
  • Understands the purpose of most objects
  • Recognizes the names of smaller body parts such as elbow
  • Understands the difference between the concepts one, more, and all
  • Understands concepts of over, under, in, and on
  • Understands the genders boy and girl
  • Uses two- to four-word phrases
  • Uses pronouns such as I, me, you, they, and we
  • Expresses possession such as, “My book.”
  • Expresses location such as, “I want up.”
  • Expresses action such as, “Go outside.”
  • Repeats two numbers in sequence
  • Uses commands
  • Increases vocabulary to about a thousand words
  • Is understood by others seventy to eighty percent of the time
Three to Five Years
  • Understands more complex concepts, such as front/back, hard/soft, heavy/light, below/above
  • Knows the primary colors
  • Uses the question words who, what, and where
  • Asks many questions
  • Uses four- to eight-word sentences
  • Uses verbs such as is, am, and are
  • Uses plural forms
  • Uses possessive forms, such as “daddy’s car”
  • Describes objects by size, shape, and color
  • Engages in conversation and begins to tell stories
  • Counts from zero to ten
  • Sings simple songs
  • Uses the past tense
  • Is understood by strangers
  • Develops of vocabulary of 2,100 words or more

Signs of Possible Developmental Delays: Communication
Helpful article if you suspect your child may have developmental delays.

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