3-6 MONTHS - communication 'warning signs' and what to do

3-6 MONTHS - What are the signs of a communication delay?

It is very important to note that every child is different and their development progresses at slightly different rates. It is often the case that when progress is seen in one area, this can result in a temporary delay in another. The developmental stages described above are averages only and need not be a cause for concern if your child does not meet each average milestone exactly on time. There is quite a bit of flexibility to be found, however, there are some factors to consider that would require you to seek further advice and support. The important ‘warning signs’ to look out for are:

By 6 months….

  • Your baby doesn’t frequently look around to find who's speaking
  • She seldom follows a moving object with her eyes
  • She makes very few sounds apart from crying 
  • She rarely makes sounds back to you when you talk to her
  • She doesn’t babble (make sounds with a consonant and a vowel, e.g. “goo”, pa”)

 If you notice any of these signs, please do not panic. There are plenty of things you can start doing with your baby TODAY to support them to reach their full communication potential. You may also wish to speak to your Health Visitor or GP, or other specialist in child development if you have any concerns.

You're probably already naturally doing some of these tips, but there may be some that you may not have considered or that you may need to do more often.

 

What should I do?

 

  • Spend half an hour of quality one-on-one time with your baby each day

This quality time is so important and, as life is hopefully a little more predictable by now, extending feeding or nappy times to enjoy this quality time with your baby may not be necessary. Instead, it's best to find a suitable 30 minutes in the day where you and your baby can enjoy each others company free from distractions, e.g. no music, radio, television, other people talking. It is useful for you to build a routine of having this quality one-to-one time with your baby each day. Anything that limits stress is a good thing! Giving your baby your full, undivided attention is the best things your can do for your baby. It is also the one thing, above everything else, that your baby will enjoy the most.

 

    • Set-up a quiet, distraction-free environment (no tv, videos, radio or music - there is a place for these later in the child’s development)
    • Reduce the chances of being interrupted - this will help to develop the baby’s fleeting listening and attention skills
    • Reduce background noise as this will help your baby tune-in to your speech more. Your baby may start to be able to ‘tune out’ background noises, however, she can only do this if there is a big difference between the background and foreground sounds.
    • Very importantly, reducing these distractions helps your baby hear the differences between the sounds she makes when moving her lips and tongue

 

  • Never try to prolong your baby's attention span

Your baby is still very easily distracted and she is only able to attend to something for a very short time. Therefore, it's important to have lots of objects around her that she will find interesting to look at and maybe reach out to play with. She will love some toys that make a noise at this age.

Position yourself very close to our baby, either with her in your arms or right in front of you in a little chair on the floor. She gives you a fantastic opportunity to help your baby discriminate between different speech sounds and for her to see how you are making these sounds with your mouth. Remember to keep some toys within easy reach if your baby's attention goes to them.

It is extremely important that you do not try and maintain your baby's attention on what you want to play with or what you think your baby would be most interested in. Your baby will spontaneously shift her attention to something else, and if you are trying to keep it on an object or activity, then her attention skills will become fragmented on what you want to show her and on her own desired focus of attention. If this happens a lot, then it can delay a child's progression through the developmental stages and cause a lot of frustration for both the child and adult. Unfortunately, this problem is quite common and parents are often very surprised at how their child's attention, and resulting communication skills, develop when they follow their child's own focus of attention.

 

  • Look out for your baby's pauses

Your baby is starting to babble more and her conversational turn-taking skills are starting to develop. Therefore, as opposed to chatting away with her in your playtime, it's so important that you provide some regular pauses in your speech so that she has a chance to 'reply'. Pause after you have said something, and speak when she has also paused in her sound-making. There is likely to be less overlap between both your speech-sounds at this age, and this should be encouraged to help her understand how communication 'works'. By providing this turn-taking in interaction, your baby will develop not just their attention skills, but also their symbolic play skills and their understanding of words. 

 

  • Repeat the sounds your baby makes back to her

Try some turn-taking by repeating the sounds your baby makes backs to her. For example, if she says "oo", you say "oooooo", if she says "ayay", you say "ayayayayayayay" in response. You can emphasise the sounds by making them longer than hers. This turn-taking of sounds is a very important precursor to developing conversation skills, as well as one of the best things you can do to help develop her attention skills.

She will love this! The more you repeat back her sounds, the more sounds she will make! Sooner or later, she will start to repeat those same sounds back to you again and you will both be enjoying a wonderful little 'conversation'. Your baby is learning that listening and watching sounds being made is fun! What's not as fun for your baby (or for you in the long run) is you making sounds and expecting or trying to get your baby to copy you. It is worth remembering that it is not about you trying to make your baby repeat your sounds, instead, the most reward and benefit come from you responding and replying to your baby's sounds through imitation....this is way more fun for you and your baby, and more fun equals more sound-making practise!

 

  •  Make lots of 'play' sounds

As well as imitating your baby's sounds, general play sounds are also really beneficial (and fun!) to use now. For example, "wheeeee" when rolling a ball, repeated words like "up up up you come", rhythmical phrases like "whoopsie-daisy", and cutesy nonsense sounds like "coochi coochi cooo" as you walk up her tummy with your fingers. The more fun you have with these sounds, the more you baby will enjoy your interactions and study your mouth when you make them. She may even begin to practise some mouth shapes, such as rounding her lips, as she intently watches your face.

 

  • Speak using short, simple, tuneful sentences

What do you think will keep your baby's attention and interest the most.....a tuneful and slow "Here's daddy...here he is...daddy's here!" or a typical, faster-paced "I think I can hear daddy's car pulling into the driveway. He'll be here any second!"?

Speaking slowly using short, simple phrases that are tuneful with pauses between each phrase is most definitely still your baby's preference. They will attend more to what you're saying and will enjoy the more emotional tone of your voice. Later on, this way of speaking to your baby will help her to link words and small phrases to their meaning.

 

  • Play social games...and show how much fun you're having in your face!

Play social games such as taking it in turns to make sounds (after a while, look out for your baby to start pausing and looking at you expectantly after she makes a sound),  tickling games, counting fingers and toes, and lots of singing and rhymes (e.g. "This little piggy went to market...", "Round and round the garden..."). Later you can use some toys to play with, e.g. playing "Eyes, nose and cheeky cheeky chin" on teddy's face, or taking turns to bang with spoons, e.g. "bang bang bang". Make sure that your face matches your lively level of fun!

Your baby will also loves to play other games in which she learns to anticipate when something is going to happen, e.g. peek-a-boo. You can help her to anticipate this by slowly moving your face towards hers, giving her some time to anticipate the "boo!". By the time she is 6 months old, she will love games like taking it in turns to clap hands (your own hands and each others).

Remember...repeat, repeat, repeat! Your baby will enjoy and benefit from becoming familiar with her favourite rhymes and songs and they will give you lots of opportunities to repeat the sounds, words and even gestures or actions - all is good! Repetitive songs and doing the actions to go with the words are a particular favourite of mine (and babies). Such songs like 'row, row, row your boat' go down a treat!

 

  • Really observe and notice what your baby looks at...and talk about it

If your baby looks at you - start an interactive social game or song.

If she stops looking at you and looks towards a toy - stop the game and give her the toy to play (say the name of the toy, or make a play sound).

When she loses interest (which wont be long), notice when she looks away or reaches for something else - it's now time to play and talk about the new shiny object (or person).

Following your baby's interests is so important to develop their attention skills at this age, and later on, following your child's lead in play will become key in developing their language skills by helping them link words to their meanings.

Remember, your baby still has single-channeled attention skills throughout the majority of her 3-6 month age range. She cannot look and listen at the same time, except in particular circumstances, such as when there is nothing else to distract her, when she is focusing on something that she has chosen, or when what she is listening to and looking at is the same thing (e.g. a toy that makes a noise, someone singing or talking to her about what her attention is focused on). Noticing and following her focus of attention will help her to develop these attention skills further.

 

  • Continue talking to your baby outside of your quality 30 mins one-to-one time

Use a 'commentary' style of talking whilst you are in the same room as your baby, e.g. "Shall we go for a walk now or later? Let's go now...I think it's going to rain later". Your baby won't understand a word you're saying, but she will learn and enjoy the natural rhythm and tune of your language. As in this example, it's also fine to ask the occasional rhetorical question (those questions that don't require an answer) when you speak to your baby. As long as you are not expecting an answer (which of course, at this age, you are not) then this is fine for now, but as your child gets older, there will be an emphasis and benefit of making more comments than questions.  

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I hope you find these tips useful and I can't wait for you to notice all the exciting things your baby wants to play with and talk about.

Enjoy your every second....your baby will soon be 7 months old!

 

Is your baby already 7 months old? Find out what you can expect to see here

 

Your Speech Therapist,

Lucy

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