Early social communication delays
Early social communication delays – what are they and what to look out for?
Babies are born with remarkable abilities to communicate. Typical social and communication development in children includes things like responding to their name, making eye contact, and using gestures.
Sometimes the social and communication skills of babies can develop differently to what we typically expect. These early social communication delays are not the same for all children, and depend on the age of the child. Early differences that we may see in the first year of life, include:
- not consistently using eye contact to get someone’s attention
- rarely point to or hold up objects to show you things
- not consistently responding to their name being called
- not consistently using gestures on their own – for example, they might not wave bye-bye or clap without being asked to
- not consistently smiling back at you or other familiar people when you smile at them
- rarely copying other people’s actions, like combing their hair when you comb yours
- not sounding like they’re having a conversation with you when they babble, or they might not babble at all
- having difficulty understanding simple, one-step instructions by 1-2 years old – for example, ‘Give me the block’ or ‘Show me the dog’
No one of these behaviours alone are anything in particular to be concerned about. But when we see a number of these behaviours in the same child, it can be really important to have a closer look to see if the baby could do with some support.
Why is early support so critical for babies?
Early childhood is a time of rapid change which provides a window of opportunity to support brain and psychological development. In a child’s first three years of life, their brain grows from approximately 25 to 80-90 percent of adult size. During this time, more than a million neural connections are formed every second. These are the ‘bricks, mortar and wiring’ of the brain and provide the foundation for lifelong health, wellbeing, learning, and behaviour.
While genetics play a major role in brain development, it is also highly influenced by environmental experiences. The most influential part of a baby’s environment are the interactions that they have with their parent(s) and close caregivers. There is strong evidence that increased sensitive and responsive caregiving styles early in life has positive downstream effects on child development and wellbeing.
When a baby babbles or gestures and an adult responds with eye contact, words or a smile, neural connections that support communication and social skills are formed and strengthened. This sensitive and responsive parenting style has been found to be associated with more favourable long-term social and communicative outcomes for children experiencing typical or neurodivergent development.
Social communication milestones
Social and communication milestones can be a useful tool to know what to expect from your child as they grow. Every child is different, however, typical social and communication development in children includes things like responding to their name, making eye contact, copying, and using gestures.
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