Skills we work on before we work on “Speech”

Skills we work on before we work on “Speech”

There are several skills that a child needs to master before using words with an intent to communicate. This post will focus on the 5 primary skills that we target at The TALK Team.

Shared Attention

A child needs to be able to share attention with another individual and be able to engage in an interaction for a brief period of time at minimum. Our favorite activity to promote shared attention is anticipatory eye contact. This activity requires nothing but intonation, fun and laughter. An easy way to “teach” eye contact in this manner is a, “Ready, set …….. GO!” Tickling activity. Use a heavy dose of anticipation and silent pause once you say, “set” and wait for purposeful eye contact before loudly saying, “GO!” while providing tickets and laughter. This can be expanded into other anticipation activities and eventually verbal skills.

Motor Imitation

Motor imitation is a precursor to verbal imitation and much easier to facilitate. If a child is not imitating motor skills, hand-over-hand prompting can be utilized to ensure that the movement is imitated. Make sure that the motor imitation is facilitated in a fun and engaging way. Some of our favorites are monster stomps, imitation songs, dancing and knocking!

Play Skills

Play skills can involve functional play where an item is used for what it was intended such as driving a car, throwing a ball or pretending to read a book. Symbolic play involves pretending that an item is something different such as “talking” on the phone with a remote control or “flying” a toy car. We like to expand on existing play schemes to encourage expanded play skills. If a child enjoys driving a car, a bus can be introduced to drive instead, or people/animals can be put into the vehicle to be driven around.


Gestures are highly correlated with language skills. The more gestures that a child is able to use, the greater chances are that the child will be able to communicate her desires. When parents use gestures in combination with verbal speech, a child has more opportunity to learn. Our favorite way to focus on gestures is to teach pointing with the index finger. A simple point allows a child to show what it is that he wants in a very functional manner.


A child must be producing a variety of sounds in order to combine these sounds into words and syllable shapes. Before working on imitation of specific sounds, take an inventory of spontaneous sounds that the child produces. Is there a good range of vowels and consonants being used? If a child is displaying only a few spontaneous sounds, encourage production of different types of sounds, ranging from silly, non-speech sounds to environmental sounds and babbling.

Focusing on these 5 integral skills will get your kiddo on their way to being able to work on specific speech targets!

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