Written by Sudha Ramaswamy, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA
Learning about early developmental milestones for babies and toddlers is one of the most important things that a parent or caregiver can do for their child. Signs of autism can appear as early as a few months and most often before a child’s second birthday. There are important social and language milestones to look for as your child grows. You can observe your child’s development by watching how he or she plays, learns, speaks and even non-verbally communicates. Read on to learn about milestones to watch for in your child and some activities that you can engage in with your child to facilitate their development and growth. Early developmental milestones for babies to toddlers nine months to two years old are outlined below. If your child is not meeting these milestones or if you have any other concerns, talk to your pediatrician.
By 9 months of age, babies should be making eye contact with you and smiling, often babbling while looking at you. They should copy your gestures and sounds. They will also demonstrate their needs by reaching for items that they want. Often by 9 months, babies start to play back-and forth games such as “peek a boo”, can transfer toys between her hands and look to where you point. You can encourage your baby’s development by playing games with “my turn, your turn.” Say what you think your baby is feeling. For example, say, “You are so sad, you fell down!”. You can describe what your baby is looking at; for example, “purple, bouncy ball”. Narrate what your baby wants when she or he points at something, for example, “yes, that’s a big truck!” Copy your baby’s sounds and words when they babble to teach them that their words pay off.
By 12 months, babies will play more social games and engage you with eye contact while playing. They will also use gestures like pointing to indicate their wants and needs. By 12 months, babies will begin to use consonant sounds and a few simple words, like “mama” or “baba”. At this age, children are very inquisitive about the world around them. Parents can make the most of this natural curiosity by engaging children in conversations about the objects or activities that have captured their attention. By tuning in and talking to children about whatever is holding their attention, adults have an opportunity to support children’s language development by responding to their interests. Parents can use these moments to support children’s language by initiating high-quality conversations that include rich vocabulary.
By 18 months, children will plays pretend with dolls or stuffed animals and can use at least 10 words. They will continue to imitate your words and actions while playing. Children will start to make many different consonant sounds and identify familiar people and body parts. Toys can also be helpful in providing children with opportunities to practice their communication skills. By choosing materials that can encourage children to talk or listen to an adult or a peer, teachers can supply children with “props” to help support children’s language development. These props are objects that may stimulate conversations and include dolls, old phones, puppets,books, pictures, play dough, and legos. When using a prop, adults can ask children open-ended questions like “What…?”,“Why…?” and “How…?” Then, pause for a response. Parents can also label props and provide explanations about their function or purpose.
Reading books to children is one of the most effective ways to provide children with opportunities to develop their social and language skills. Parents and caregivers can use books to start discussions with children about the stories and pictures presented and connect the stories and pictures to children’s lives. The opportunities for helping children build their language skills with books are greatest when adults help children to become engaged by: 1) encouraging children’s participation in the story, 2) expanding on children’s responses, and 3) giving feedback. By interacting with children in these ways, parents and caregivers give children a chance to practice listening and speaking skills that foster language development.
By 24 months, children show a definite interest in playing with other children, but they still spend more time in parallel play (next to other children), rather than interactive (with other children). They can put many actions together during play, like stirring, pouring, or giving a doll a bottle. Children’s vocabulary has rapidly expanded to at least 50 words and they can identify objects when named. By two years old, children can make simple sentences like “Daddy, go outside” and “What’s that, mommy?”. Encourage your child to help with simple chores at home, like sweeping and making dinner and encourage conversation during these chores to practice using new vocabulary. Praise your child for being a good helper and following simple directions. At this age, children still play next to each other and don’t share too well. For play dates, provide children toys and activities to play with together. Observe the children closely and step in with models for appropriate language during play, for example, “Can I play with that please?” You can review rules for positive peer interactions ahead of the playdate to reiterate expectations for appropriate behavior. For example, “use your words”, “take turns” and reinforce all opportunities when your child is using this language appropriately. If problem behaviors arise during play (e.g. crying, grabbing etc), model correct language for your child.
Early intervention makes a critical difference
If you notice that your child is not meeting milestones, reach out to your pediatrician who can provide support for obtaining early intervention evaluations and services. Oftentimes, even though parents have certain concerns, they may put off seeking help from a professional. Parents may be waiting to see if their child grows out of certain behaviors or may be unsure if what their child is showing is a real concern. Research shows that early intervention is crucial to improving outcomes for kids with autism and related developmental disabilities. The early time in a child’s social and language development is critical. Remember, it is never too early or too late to provide support for your child.