Communication involves not only speech but includes non-verbal communication as well. Before a child learns to speak, they are able to communicate their wants and needs through the use of eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, body postures, and vocal sounds. Gestures may include motor actions with a child’s fingers, hands, whole body, and/or face. Children also learn to comprehend the nonverbal communication signals of other people.
Babies as young as 3-6 months develop nonverbal communication in the form of coordinated attention. This can be seen when babies of this age exchange social signals through gaze, voice, and facial and body movements- all of which convey emotional information to their communicative partner.
Communicative gestures can involve smiling, eye contact, hand movements, and so much more. Young children often point at objects indicating that they want them. They may look up at you for “more”. They may shake their head to indicate “no”. All of these responses, though not vocal, help the individual to convey their wants and needs.
For early learners, these responses may need to be directly taught. Often shaping is utilized. This strategy can be used to turn a reach into a point. Eye contact may be paired with an ASL sign.
By targeting nonverbal communication, you are increasing a child’s intentional communication. This will help to develop the prerequisite skills for vocal communication as nonverbal communication accompanies verbal communication.
Rogers, S. J., & Dawson, G. (2010). Early Start Denver Model for young children with autism: Promoting language, learning, and engagement. Guilford Press.