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Early Stages of Speech and Language Development: What to Know, How to Help Promote Typical Communication and When There Is a Reason to Be Concerned

Published October 27th, 2022 by Jacqueline Chin

Blog author: Miriam Fruchter, MA, CCC-SLP


What is “Communication”?

Communication is the process by which information is transmitted or conveyed between two individuals (full definition on Merriam-Webster).


In the very beginning, a baby communicates to have his wants and needs met. This takes place immediately from the day they are born through the use of body movements, facial expressions, crying and cooing. The parent or caregiver needs to learn to RECOGNIZE these communication signs, READ and interpret them appropriately, and then RESPOND as quickly and consistently as possible. As described by NCIP, the National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education Through Technology, Media and Materials, through these 3 R’s of early communication development, the baby learns to become an effective communicator by gaining attention and having his needs met (Chapter 7: Developing Communication Abilities).


However, as we all know, there is a lot more to communication than having our needs met. We communicate to share information, comment, ask questions, to express our wants and needs, and develop social relationships. These forms of communication develop gradually as a baby grows and goes through the communication milestones.


An important factor to keep in mind is that these communication milestones do not develop in isolation, rather they go hand in hand and develop alongside other social/emotional, cognitive, and physical milestones as well.


The Early Communication Milestones and What to Expect



0-3 months

A baby moves in response to a voice and shows awareness of a speaker, discriminates between angry and friendly voices, coos, and makes sounds to express pleasure, produces a hunger cry, and cries to get attention.

3-6 months

A baby turns his head toward the sound of your voice, searches for the speaker, recognizes his own name, stops crying when spoken to, takes turns making sounds with you, laughs, babbles, and makes sounds to express displeasure.

6-9 months

A baby attends to music or singing, recognizes names of familiar others, maintains attention to a speaker, responds to sounds even when they can’t see where the sound is coming from, begins to look at pictures, and waves to ‘bye-bye’. At this age, a baby makes sounds when objects move, sings along to a familiar song, and begins to produce different syllables (ma, da, ba...).

9-12 months

A baby gives objects to others when asked, looks at familiar objects and people when named, identifies 2 body parts on himself, begins to follow simple directions, and begins to understand simple questions. At this age, a baby says ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ with meaning, begins to imitate consonant and vowel combinations, says 1-2 words spontaneously and imitates names of familiar objects.

12-15 months

A baby follows 1-step directions more consistently, produces words when asked, enjoys rhymes and finger play games, responds when someone tells them to ‘give me...’, understands new words more frequently and identifies 3 body parts on himself and others. At this age, a baby also shakes their head ‘no’, says 8-10 words spontaneously and imitates new words, and uses true words with other nonsense words.

15-18 months

A baby locates familiar objects not within their sight, understands about 50 words, identifies objects by category, and chooses two familiar objects when asked. At this age, a baby also says 15 meaningful words, produces more varied consonant sounds (t, d, n, h), talks rather than uses gestures, imitates words overheard in conversation, asks for ‘more’ and ‘what’s that?’.

18-21 months

A baby identifies pictures when named (such as those within a book), understands the commands, ‘give me’ and ‘come here’, and understands the meaning of action words. At this age, a baby imitates sounds heard in their environment, verbalizes two different needs and uses single words frequently while imitating 2-to-3-word phrases as well.

21-24 months

A baby follows new commands, 2- step commands and understands new words quickly. A baby also uses 2-word phrases frequently with occasional use of 3-word phrases, uses 50 different words, relates personal experiences and refers to himself by name.

24-36 months

The toddler begins to understand the concept of ‘size’ and the concept of ‘one and all’, answers yes and no questions correctly and follows 2-3 step directions. The toddler also identifies parts of an object, responds to ‘wh-’ (what, where) questions, and shows interest in why and how things work. At this age, the toddler uses 3-word phrases frequently, asks for assistance, uses action words, uses plurals, prepositions and answers questions using the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The toddler also uses more sentences, counts to three, and expresses physical states (hungry, tired).

(References: The Rossetti Infant-Toddler Language Scale, CDC’s Developmental Milestones,


It is very important to keep in mind that each child develops at their own pace and there is a NORMAL RANGE of development in which a child may reach each milestone.


What You Can Do to Help Promote Typical Communication

Now that we’ve taken a quick look at the communication development during the first 3 years of a baby’s life, let’s discuss some exercises and activities that you can do to promote typical communication:

  • Talk, sing, and read to your child
  • Verbally respond to your baby’s vocalizations
  • Point and name the items within your baby’s environment
  • Model language as much as possible and keep naming everything around you
  • Use shared attention, gestures, and even simple signs (sign language)
  • Use an exaggerated tone of voice and vary the pitch when you describe things
  • Use ‘feeling’ words to help describe their emotions
  • Use lots and lots of songs (the made-up ones are the best)
  • Imitate your baby’s sound productions and gestures so that they receive feedback from you

What If My Baby Is Not Reaching His Milestones and Is Beginning to Fall Behind in His Development?

The first thing to do is to contact your baby’s pediatrician and voice your concerns. Have a conversation and don’t be afraid to be your child’s best advocate. Trust yourself and your intuition as a parent. Your pediatrician should be able to guide you as to whom to contact if a speech and language evaluation is necessary. The following examples may indicate a certain degree of delay:

  • Is there a lack of attention and focus?
  • How is your baby’s eye contact with their caregiver and familiar others?
  • Do they calm to a familiar voice or touch?
  • Can they understand simple directions?
  • Is your baby responsive to your voice or to others when spoken to
  • Listen to how your child pronounces words. Are they hard to understand?
  • Does your child repeat what you say or say the same thing over and over?
  • Do they lack empathy for the feelings of others?

(References: Child Development Institute,


If you do suspect a delay in your child’s speech and language development, seek out a speech-language pathologist to perform an assessment and evaluate your child’s communication abilities. For more information, you can call New York Therapy Placement Services (NYTPS) to further assist you. We are always here ready to guide you every step of the way in all of your evaluation and therapy needs. For more information regarding communication milestones, please refer to National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. I want to leave you today with a quote that sums up what being a parent is all about:


“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

— Angela Schwindt


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