Communication is key – How early is too early?
Young children’s communication development includes learning to understand and communicate their thoughts, feelings, and knowledge.
Communication comprehension begins before birth and continues to develop throughout a child’s life as he or she hears, perceives, and analyses information from others.
Language can be represented as eye movement, hand gestures such as pointing and sign language, head movement such as nodding, and vocalisations both noises and speech.
Gestures, spoken words, sign language, visual language systems, and communication boards are all used to increase language expression to facilitate a conversation or communication interaction.
What Is Early Intervention?
Children develop and mature at their own pace. While some children can walk and talk at an early age, others may experience delays in mastering particular skills. The sooner you seek support if you have concerns about your child’s development, the better.
Professionals including speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists are part of the early intervention team. They help children develop skills such as:
- Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, problem-solving);
- Communication skills (gesturing, talking, listening, understanding);
- Physical and sensory skills (crawling, walking, climbing, seeing, hearing);
- Social-emotional skills (playing, understanding feelings, making friends); and
- Adaptive or self-help skills (eating, bathing, dressing).
Early intervention is different for each child and family depending on the child’s needs and the family’s priorities. As therapists, we work towards the goals that the family set and support them on their journey to success.
How early can my child start speech therapy?
There is no such thing as too early! Before the age of 18 months, your child should have reached speech, language, and hearing milestones. Speech pathologists can work with children as young as 6 months old. When we consider that children should have a well-developed language system and social skills before beginning prep, we can see how important their early years are in preparation for long-term success.
The catch-up game
We know that speech, language, play, and cognition are all interconnected and that they are skills that develop across time. Children’s communication talents are developed step by step. If a child has not yet solidified their capacity to utilise single words (verbal or non-verbal), word combinations, and early phrases, it is doubtful that they will start conducting conversations at the age of three.
Hanen – More Than Words® — The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Communication Difficulties
In February of 2022, KEO Care launched its first More Than Words program. The More Than Words Program was designed specifically for parents of children under the age of six on the autism spectrum and with other social communication difficulties. Addressing the unique needs of these children, the program provides parents with the tools, strategies and support they need to help their children reach their full communication potential.
The program is researched and delivered by The Hanen Centre. Founded more than 35 years ago, The Hanen Centre is a Canadian charitable organization with a global reach. Their mission is to enable parents and professionals to transform their daily interactions with young children to build the best possible lifelong social, language and literacy skills.
This program aims to reach the following three goals:
- Improved social communication and back-and-forth interactions
- Improved play skills
- Improved imitation skills
Other things that are learnt include:
- What motivates your child to communicate?
- How to use your knowledge about your child to set appropriate and realistic goals
- How to make interactions with your child last longer
- Tips for using pictures and words to help your child’s understanding
- Strategies for how to talk so that your child understands you
- Strategies for developing your child’s play skills
- Ways to help your child make friends
The More Than Words program aims to empower families to support their children. Parents participating in the program have been able to reflect on their skills and how they have developed throughout the program, they feel empowered and in control of their child’s progress. Seeing the change in their children and their confidence has supported them to do things not previously tried such as going to a play centre or the shops and immersing their child in new things.
The program also supports a greater understanding of the ways children communicate and how to interpret behaviours that have been seen as ‘naughty’ as ways of communication. Exploring a child’s sensory needs and alternative communication strategies such as screaming, hand flapping and jumping, have enabled families to be more attuned to their child and able to support their communication. Many families have noted reduced behaviours and more attempts to initiate communication and play as the child is realising they are understood. The program is sparking joy and opening the door to more opportunities and possibilities that many families did not know were available to them. In addition, the community that the groups create amongst the families have supported parents to not feel alone and learn new ways to engage with their children and community.
About the author
Alexandra Roff is an experienced Speech Pathologist at KEO Care. Alexandra established the Speech Pathology stream at KEO Care in 2021.
To increase her ability to support families and children to meet their goals she has done additional training with the Hanen Centre and is qualified to deliver the ‘More Than Words’ program as well as additional training in the Keyworker model. Furthermore, Alexandra enjoys developing alternative communication strategies with families such as Key Word Signing to support expression and understanding.
Her main areas of interest are supporting children to learn to communicate and play as well as supporting people of all ages to enjoy their mealtimes and maintain their safety whilst swallowing food and fluid.