Developing Intentional Communication with Infants

Everyone has heard people say, “children’s brains are like sponges." It is amazing how much infants learn within their first year of life, with one lesson being communication. In typical development, there are hallmarks and stepping stones to develop intentional communication. These hallmarks include eye gaze shift, persistence, changes in communication attempts, pausing after attempts, expressing satisfaction/frustration, and terminating once satisfied. In typically developing infants, hallmarks of intentional communication begin to emerge around 9 months. When looking for the hallmarks of intentional communication in an infant, it is important to look for the presence of more than one hallmark to determine intentionality. 

  1. Eye gaze shifts let us know the infant is aware of the other communication partner. 
  2. Persistence: when communicating, the infant may display persistence, or repeat the same gesture over and over because the communication partner is not getting the message. 
  3. Changes in communication attempts: the infant changes the way he or she is communicating if their communication partner does not get the message at first. 
  4. Pausing/expressing satisfaction/frustration/terminating: an infant pausing, expressing, and terminating communication are all about their communication partner’s reaction to the infant’s communication bid. 

Infants also take steps to develop communication. These steps can be split into stages according to age. 

0-3 months

  1. Turn and watch the communication partner's face when he/she speaks
  2. Smile and seem to recognize familiar voices
  3. Respond to comforting tones
  4. Start cooing
  5. Use differentiated cries

4-6 months

  1. Move eyes in the direction of sounds
  2. Engage in vocal play
  3. Indicate urgency/excitement with vocalizations
  4. Begin making voluntary (intentional) movements

6-9 months

  1. Respond to name
  2. Begin babbling (reduplicated first, as in "bababa," then variegated such as "padapada")