Communication in Children: 12 months to 24 months

Guest post by Speech Pathologist, Julie Miller

Babies change enormously and learn many new skills between 12 and 24 months. Communication, particularly verbal communication (talking), develops rapidly from 12 months onwards. Many babies progress from humble beginnings (an average of 3 single words at 12 months), to becoming little chatterboxes by age 2 (an average of 100 single words, and 2-3 word combinations emerging). Many important non-verbal communication skills are also developing over this time.

What should I expect?

When working with children under 3 years of age with delayed communication development, Speech Pathologists usually consider 6 key areas:

1. Play Development

By 12 months of age, babies are generally able to demonstrate appropriate toy use. Prior to about 9 months, babies will explore all toys in the same way – usually by mouthing (putting a toy in their mouth), shaking, hitting or banging toys together. From 9 -12 months, babies begin to understand what certain toys are used for. At 12 months, you can expect your baby to be pushing a car along the ground (maybe accompanied by “brm brm” noises), cuddling a doll, or “eating” from a spoon.

By 18 months – 2 years, play episodes start to extend. You may observe your 18 month+ child pushing a truck, then loading blocks onto the truck, then driving the truck away to dump the blocks or feeding a doll, cuddling the doll and putting the doll to bed. If play development appears to be delayed, modelling age appropriate play and providing opportunities for baby to imitate will be an important part of promoting communication. Play is the most natural and effective tool for early language development.

2. Communicative Intention

Intentional communication begins to develop from 9 months of age. This is when baby first becomes aware that their actions can influence the responses of those around them. I talked a bit about this in my post Baby Communication: Newborn to 1 year.

Prompting communicative intention can begin by providing temptations for communication (e.g. a desired food object in a clear container or a preferred toy on a high shelf), observing babies’ responses and waiting for a communicative attempt (including pointing, pulling parent to object, placing object in parents’ hands, making a sound or word use). If no intentional attempts are made, intent may be attributed to baby’s general actions until baby begins to understand that he/ she can influence his/her environment.

3. Range of Communication Functions

From 12 – 18 months of age, babies should be making attempts to communicate a variety of functions (whether through gesture/pointing, sounds/babble or words). We consider whether babies are using some form of communication to make requests (ask for something), refuse an object or activity, and to comment (share an observation/object with parent).

4. Forms of Communication Used

Communication generally progresses from reliance on gesture to adding vowel-like sounds (ah, oo), to adding consonant-like sounds (bah, dee) to use of real words (mum, dog). While gesture is the predominant communication form at 12 months, most children should progress to using predominantly real words for communication by 2 years of age. Modelling and “upping the ante” are important techniques to help children progress to more mature communication forms. At 12 months a child may be provided with a desired object by simply pointing at the object, however by 18 months, you may begin to encourage use of a consonant-like sound or real word before responding to the child’s request.

5. Comprehension

Children between 12-24 months of age can generally comprehend far more language than they are able to use. Comprehension can be enhanced in this age group by parents adapting their language input in a few key ways:

• Following child’s focus of attention and talking about what he/she is looking at.

• Simplifying language to a level just above what the child is using (e.g. for non-verbal children, use lots of single word labels).

• Expanding on what the child says (e.g. child says “dog”, parent says “big dog”).

Because Speech Pathologists can tend to focus on these techniques in early intervention for children with delayed language development, parents can sometimes feel that they are to blame for their child’s language delay. Research actually shows that most parents of children with language delay provide the same type of language input to their child as parents of children with normally developing language. The only difference is that the children with normal language development provide more responses, thus giving the parents more opportunities to expand and extend language input.

6. Speech Motor Development/ Sound Development

Children in the 12-24 month age group DO NOT speak clearly. One of the best things parents can do for their child’s language development in this age group is to interpret. As parents, we can attribute meaning to our child’s attempts and model the correct productions back to the child.

My 15-month-old son (who is quite a good talker for his age) uses the sound “dar” quite frequently. Depending on the context, or what he is pointing to, I know that “dar” can refer to “car”, “star”, “ta”, “grass” and probably some others that I have forgotten. At this stage of his development, all his attempts are rewarded. I try to locate what he is referring to and repeat “yes, a car” or “star” etc. I do not make any demands on him to repeat words clearly. At 15 months, I am just encouraging all verbal attempts. I would expect more differentiation of sounds by 2 years of age.

General tips for communication with your 12-24 month old

• Talk, talk, talk – about everything and anything that grabs your baby’s attention. Think about using a range of vocabulary including nouns (light, chair, dog), verbs (push, go, stop, help) and adjectives (big, happy, hot).

• Share books everyday – read the stories, but also spend time talking about the pictures. Again, follow your baby’s focus

• Play with songs and nursery rhymes. Babies and toddlers love rhythm, rhyme and repetition.

• Interpret your baby/toddler’s attempts. Praise any approximations of words, and provide a correct model.

• Have fun!

If you have any concerns about your child’s communication development, don’t hesitate to contact your local Speech Pathologist. Speech Pathologists can be contacted through your local Community Health Centre, educational facilities (preschools, schools) or private clinics.

Julie Miller is a Speech Pathologist, wife, mother and blogger. She has worked in private practice, community health and early intervention programs since graduating in 2000.

Read Julie’s Other Posts

Baby Communication: Newborn to 1

Communication in Children: 12 months to 24 months

Communication in Children: 2-3 years

Communication in Children: 3-4 years

Communication in Children: Development of Speech Sounds: 0-5 years

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  • Reply
    November 18, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Great ideas again, Julie, thanks! I love your emphasis on rhythm, rhyme and repetition – babies have their three R’s too!

    • Reply
      November 22, 2010 at 8:11 am

      @BookChook, Ha! I didn’t think of it like that – the 3Rs for babies. Very true.

  • Reply
    Kelly Be A Fun Mum
    November 18, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Great post Julie. And I just love the affirming word attempts section. I still do this, even with my 7-year-old but now with grammar rather than pronunciation.

    Is there any studies that show if younger sibblings learn to talk quicker or slower than the first child?

    In children with speech delay, does creating response opportunities help to overcome this?

    • Reply
      November 22, 2010 at 8:22 am

      @Kelly Be A Fun Mum, Thanks again for the guest post Kelly…

      There are several early studies (late 1970s, early 1980s) on birth order and language development. These do seem to suggest that firstborn/ only children are at a slight advantage with language development (something like 3-5 verbal IQ points higher than 2nd and subsequent children). The difference is fairly negligible but does seem to suggest that verbal interactions between caregivers/ parents are more important than verbal interactions with other children in terms of language development. I am not aware of any more recent studies on this, will let you know if I find something…

      Definitely yes, creating response opportunities for children with speech delay and teaching parents to recognise verbal attempts and respond to these with appropriate modelling is a huge part of early language intervention. It makes a big difference.

      Thanks again Kel, hope that helps.

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