What Comes Before Language?

Typically-developing children pick up language so naturally, it often seems to happen overnight. But there are many factors that come into play long before your child ever utters that first “Mama”. This week we will discuss two of these precursors to language: eye contact and joint attention:

Eye Contact: One of the first communicative behaviors children engage in is eye contact. Shortly after birth, children typically are able to focus their eyes on a point eight to ten inches away—the typical distance between a mother and child during feeding. At first, babies focus on human eyes because they contain physical features that they are hardwired to focus on: contrasting dark and light colors and angles. As they develop, babies begin to focus on human faces less for physical features and more for communicative purposes. Eye contact shows that the child is recognizing another human being and open to engaging with them. This engagement is an important precursor to language.

Joint Attention: Joint attention is when both the child and another individual are willfully paying attention to the same object or event. This can be initiated by either the parent or child. Parents attempt to establish joint attention with their child quite early. For example, a mother may look at a baby doll and point, saying “Look! A baby! What a pretty baby!”. At a certain point in development, the child will begin to follow the mother’s point or visual gaze to also notice the object in question. In later development, the child will initiate the joint attention himself. Often this involves looking or pointing at an object, looking at the parent, and then looking back at the object. This non-verbal action is a child’s early attempt at communication.

Stay tuned: next week we’ll continue to discuss how children develop language. In the meantime, check out our website, http://www.speechassociatesofny.com to learn about how we can help you with your speech, communication and swallowing needs.

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