Therapy Blog: Early Language and Communication



Understanding early language and communication as adults, can help us to better support children as they’re learning early communication skills.

Why do children communicate?

Communication is an important part of a child’s development. Children communicate to convey a variety of messages such as:

  • Asking for help
  • Asking you to do an action
  • Asking for an object
  • Protesting actions and objects
  • To get you to notice them
  • To show you something
  • To say hello/goodbye
  • To ask for games and play
  • Make comments about objects and actions

How do children communicate?

Children send messages in many different ways including:

  • Smiling and other facial expressions
  • Crying
  • Laughing
  • Turning away
  • Making sounds
  • Looking at you
  • Pointing and reaching
  • Pushing things away
  • Shaking their head
  • Waving and using gestures
  • Using words and sentences

What can I do to help my child’s communication development?

Your Speech Pathologist will work with you and your child to support their communication. Here are some general tips you might like to try.

  • Engage with your child
  • Interact with your child about things and events that interest them
  • Take turns with your child and wait for them to respond to you
  • Provide opportunities for your child to communicate
  1. Talking
    • Respond to your child’s communication by imitating, interpreting and commenting
    • Use a range of different words relevant to the context or situation
    • Repeat words often and highlight new sounds and words
    • Model grammatical forms (e.g. plurals, pronouns and verbs)
  1. Play
    • Babies and children learn through play, so join in the fun
    • Create opportunities for your child to play with other children
    • Choose games and toys that are age and/or ability appropriate
    • Encourage exploration, problem solving and interaction
    • Use songs and rhymes
  1. Books and reading
    • Read to your child as often as possible
    • Choose books with large and bright pictures
    • Point and name objects, animals and people in books
    • Respond to your child when reading
    • Read your child’s favourite book again (and again!)
    • Tell stories and encourage your child to tell stories

When should I be concerned about my child’s communication development?

If you have concerns about your child’s communication development, you may like to contact a Speech Pathologist. A Speech Pathologist can work with your child and family to identify communication difficulties, formulate therapy goals and support your child’s communication development.

Although each child is individual, certain ‘milestones’ can be identified in children’s development. ‘Red flags’ can be general indicators that your child may be having difficulty with their communication development at different stages and that they may benefit from seeking an assessment with a Speech Pathologist.

‘Red flags’ for 2 year olds:

  • Doesn’t seem to listen to you
  • Isn’t using a range of words
  • Is frustrated by not being able to speak or be understood
  • Doesn’t imitate words or phrases
  • Doesn’t use gestures
  • Has trouble understanding you
  • Does not engage in simple games
  • Is not joining two words together

‘Red flags’ for 3 year olds:

  • Child is not understood by most adults
  • Doesn’t use at least 50 words
  • Has difficulty following simple instructions
  • Has difficulty answering yes/no questions
  • Doesn’t ask questions

‘Red flags’ for 4 year olds:

  • Doesn’t combine three or four words together
  • Doesn’t use grammatical forms including plurals and verb tense
  • Doesn’t seem to understand what is said
  • Repeats or echoes everything they hear
  • Doesn’t engage in pretend play
  • Stuttering (repeating sounds/words and getting ‘stuck’)

‘Red flags’ for 5 year olds:

  • Doesn’t ask questions
  • Has difficulty formulating sentences
  • Can’t retell a simple story
  • Doesn’t talk about past and future events
  • Has difficulty following instructions with 3 or more steps
  • Isn’t using a range of sounds or speech is an effort

At Xavier, our team of Speech Pathologists are here to help and support you and your child to reach their own communication goals. Call us on 1800 XAVIER for further information or leave your details via our easy online form and we’ll be in touch.


  • Paul, R. & Norbury, C.F. (2012). Language disorders from infancy through adolescence. 4th Ed., Elsevier: Missouri. 
  • Restrepo, M.A., Morgan, G.P., & Thompson, M.S. (2013). The efficacy of a vocabulary intervention for dual-language learners with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56(2): 748-765.
  • Pepper, J., & Weitzman, E. (2004). It Takes Two to Talk Guidebook, 4th Ed. Hanen Centre: Toronto, Canada.
  • Weitzman, E., & Greenberg, J. (2002). Learning Language and Loving It Guidebook, 2nd Ed. Hanen Centre: Toronto, Canada.
  • Speech Pathology Australia handouts – what is a speech pathologist, helping your baby talk, sound of speech 0-3, sound of speech preschool and school and communication milestones.