Did you know that a baby’s brain is developing the most rapidly during the first three years of life? During this critical period of development, a baby’s brain is producing more than a million neural connections each second. The experiences a child has during this time will shape the architecture of her brain and build the connections that allow her to develop lifelong skills like problem-solving, relationship building and language or communication - skills that will allow her to thrive in her family, school and community.
Good communication development starts in the first year of life and goes far beyond learning how to talk. Before a toddler utters her first word, she learns to socially interact, through key social communication milestones, with parents and other caregivers during everyday activities.
Most parents and professionals know the early motor milestones - that children should be sitting up at around 6 months, crawling at 9 months and walking at 12 months. However, few parents or professionals know the key early social communication milestones. These milestones offer a critical window into the well-being of infants and toddlers and are the earliest signs of healthy development and school readiness.
These key social communication milestones develop between 9 and 16 months and they provide the foundation needed to launch language and learning:
If these early social communication milestones are not solidly in place, it is likely that a child will be delayed in learning to talk. It is important to keep in mind that delays in these social communication milestones may indicate risk for developmental delays, including autism (more on this topic in November’s blog). By detecting small gaps in early social communication skills, parents can get extra help to support their child’s development before significant delays are evident.
There are a number of resources available to help parents and caregivers monitor social communication milestones:
Children develop at their own pace, so it’s impossible to tell exactly when a child will learn a given skill. However, attending to these key social communication milestones can give us a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older. And help us recognize when they are not on target.
If a child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with a child’s development, I urge you to talk with the child’s parents and share your concerns. Don’t wait. Encourage them to talk with their doctor or contact their Area Education Agency (AEA) and pursue early evaluation and intervention. For children younger than three years old, referrals to Early ACCESS can be submitted via the website here. For children three years and older, visit the AEA website here. This sensitive time of brain development is too important to take the “wait and see” approach. We need to change our thinking to “let’s just see” and evaluate any child who might be falling behind so that they can benefit from additional support if needed. We need to ensure that our infants and toddlers have a strong start in life and the support they need to reach their maximum potential. Do your part. #Let’sJustSee