Strategies for Improving Early Language and Cognitive Development

Baby with developmental delays
Normal child development is dependent upon interaction with the environment. For children with developmental delays, this becomes even more important.

Stimulating Pre-Language Development in Infants and Young Toddlers:

  • Plant the seeds of socialization by smiling, initiating, and mirroring facial expressions and other gestures.
  • Imitate vocalizations (e.g., “dadadada…”) even when they appear to have no meaning
  • Engage in back and forth “conversations” in a playful way. This may start with their language, but you can respond with real words when their vocalizations begin to take on some apparent meaning.
  • Try singing or reading to your child.

How to Assist with Initiation and Development of Language in Young Children

  • Talk to them, even though they are not responding
  • Naming and Labelling:
    • In older toddlers, parents may begin providing a label for objects things in the environment.
    • Items of interest should be interesting and developmentally appropriate for the child.
    • Start with simple, single-syllable items (i.e., dog, ball, shoe, etc) and basic colors.
    • Using enthusiastic vocal intonation will help engage and send a signal to pay attention
  • Narrate what the child is doing. This is particularly helpful as they become more active
  • Respond interactively to attempts to communicate with you.

Transitioning from Single to Multiple Words:

  • Dedicate chunks of time to provide complete attention, so (s)he will attend to you as well.
  • Use real words, not their vocabulary or other ‘baby words.’
  • Describe what you are doing as you are doing it using full sentences. Include your child as an actor in the process (“Let’s go see what your sister is doing.”)
  • Give them the opportunity to ask questions and engage in a dialogue
  • Build upon their words with additional narration.

Strategies for Encouraging Speech Production:

  • Don’t interrupt when your child is speaking, even if it takes her a long time for them to get the words out. You want to encourage speech, not cause frustration.
  • Allow him/her to finish their own sentences, rather than anticipating what they are going to say.
  • Ensure that other family members (including older siblings) also understand and adhere to these principles as much as possible.
  • Try to use positive, rather than negative language.
    • Difficulties should be met with encouragement and praise.
    • If correction is warranted, it should be gentle and kept positive. Praise them for their accomplishments, even if they seem minor: “Yes, that’s very close! Try to say it like this … “

Helping advance language skills:

  • During interactions, you can use tangible play objects to help demonstrate simple abstract concepts, such as:
    • Same vs. Different
    • Self vs. Others
    • Larger vs. Smaller
  • You can teach the concept that objects still exist even when they cannot be seen (object permanence) by hiding one item behind the other.
  • Use normal, clear speech, rather than trying to hyper-articulate sounds.
  • Consistently setting aside a small amount of time each day for these tasks will yield better results than less frequent but more extensive periods.