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Ask the experts: Infant development and communication

This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on infant development. Today’s topic is development milestones in communication. Here to share what communicative markers to be on the lookout for during your child’s first three years of life is David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, a Board Certified Neurologist and author of Raise a...

This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on infant development. Today’s topic is development milestones in communication. Here to share what communicative markers to be on the lookout for during your child’s first three years of life is David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, a Board Certified Neurologist and author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten.


close up view of a baby (12-18 months) smiling
We’ve all heard the story that Einstein didn’t speak until three years of age, and I suspect some parents are provided this example when they begin to get concerned that their child might not be developing normally by what they consider to be a “normal” age. But like every other aspect of development, children reach their milestones at remarkably differing ages and generally end up doing just fine. That said, language development does indeed represent a very critical event in childhood brain development and is highly dependent on a variety of factors including appropriate nutrition, interaction with parents or caregivers, hearing, and genetics.
Some general guidelines to consider:
Before 1 year:
Kids should be babbling, cooing, and even putting together sounds to form words like “mama.” While perhaps not yet able to name objects, they should generally be able to identify a few objects by name. Failure to reach these goals by age 1 year should prompt parents to have their child’s hearing checked. These days however, most pediatricians are testing hearing in children during their first few months of life.
12-15 months:
By now, most kids begin naming objects and can understand simple verbal commands.
18-24 months:
Again, development is variable, even amongst siblings, but typically by this time children have use of around 20 to 50 words and are able to combine two words to make sentences.
2-3 years:
This is the time when speech really expands with a vast expansion of vocabulary, comprehension and sentence construction.
If these milestones are not met, or if speech milestones are met but then your child seems to be “losing ground,” it’s a good idea to consider having your child evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Some important tips to foster speech development:
1) Turn off the TV! TV is no substitute for verbal interaction with your child. So much of language centers on imitation and learning how other people respond to your sounds. None of this happens with the one-way interaction with the TV or video.
2) Make sure mothers supplement with the critical omega-3 oil, DHA, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. DHA is a fundamental nutrient for brain development. I generally recommend DHA derived from marine algae as a nutritional supplement. In fact, this is the kind of DHA found in infant formulas.
3) Read to your child and point out the words and objects.
4) Consider limiting the number of immunizations your child has at any single visit to the pediatrician.

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