Moving beyond ‘Eye Contact’

Eye Contact – What do we mean by this term and is it ever appropriate to work on?

The term ‘eye contact’ is often referred to as an important skill that children must acquire on their way to becoming social participants in interactions.

‘Demonstrates appropriate eye contact’ often appears on child developmental checklists.

A lack of ‘eye contact’ has been also sometimes been associated with a range of developmental difficulties and differences including Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So what do we mean by the term ‘Eye Contact’ and what does ‘Demonstrating appropriate eye contact’ look like?

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how we use our eyes to help make sense of social situations.

We look at our conversational partner’s face to gauge information about their emotions, topic of interest and for hints of when it might be our turn to contribute to the conversation.

Much can be learned from noticing a partners’ facial expressions and, by following our partner’s eye gaze, we might better understand and tune into what they want to share with us.

Often our eye gaze will shift from our conversational partner, to an item of joint interest and back to our partner again.

Many of us feel slightly comfortable when staring intently into our conversational partner’s eyes for any length of time and the experience for our conversational partner when we do so can be equally awkward!

Eye Contact should perhaps be re-phrased to mean ‘thinking with your eyes’!

Here are a few reasons why:


Instead of teaching our children to ‘look at us when we or they speak’, we might try encouraging our children to notice what is visually meaningful or of significance to the particular joint situation we find ourselves in.

We can encourage our children to look more often and tune into what is important.

We can also provide our children with a warning signal that it will very soon be time to ‘tune in’ to a conversational partner.  Saying your child’s name to seek their attention is a good way to do so and, even more so, if you are within your child’s visual field when you state their name.

Say your child’s name.

WAIT for your child to look in your direction.

THEN provide the instruction, make the comment or start the conversation.

Encouraging your child to notice what is visually important in the environment will also help to prompt your child to understand what is expected of him or her. For example, instead of saying “Oh! You are sitting on the puzzle pieces.  Move away so we can finish the puzzle”….try…. “Oh…your body is on top of the pieces” and WAIT for your child to LOOK and then use this new visual information to solve the problem independently.

This tiny little tweak in how we interact with our children helps them to better understand what they see and to use this information to develop social, conversational and behavioural skills.

My child really does struggle to direct any eye contact towards me!

Some children really do find any eye contact (even very fleeting eye contact) emotionally dysregulating.

It is important […]


Kicking Goals in Early Childhood Communication

So now you have profiled a child’s communicative strengths and challenges

and have some ideas brewing for where you would like to start.

Things can get pretty overwhelming at this stage so here a few helpful suggestions for communication goals that can be targeted in early childhood settings during natural routines and play:

“What will make the most difference to this child’s life?”

When looking at your profile of communication strengths and challenges, this is a vital question to ask as you sit back and reflect upon where to start.

SPEECH:  What speech sound difficulties are those that are most impacting intelligibility and clarity for this child?  These might be good sounds to start working on if developmentally appropriate.

RECEPTIVE LANGUAGE:  At what times of the day does the child’s difficulties with understanding language most impact his or her capacity to engage with activities, routines and play?  Perhaps it is when needing to follow instructions during transition times.  Maybe it is when required to listen and respond during story time on the mat or when responding to questions for early morning circle time.

EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE:  Are there situations where communication breaks down because a child is unable to effectively convey his or her ideas using words or short sentences?  Does this ever result in frustration for you or for the child?

SOCIAL COMMUNICATION:  Have you noticed particular patterns of challenge related to the child’s difficulties in understanding and using the many unwritten rules of social interaction and play.  Perhaps the child is struggling to understand the concept of turns or does not seem to comprehend when his or her actions have upset a playmate.  Maybe the child’s ability to play has stalled and the child is yet to play with a variety of items in a reciprocal and imaginative manner.  This may be restricting their ability to positive engage with peers.

Take Small Steps to Achieve Communication Goals

As I have often said…my advice is that less is more.  Choose no more than 3 small things to start working towards the child achieving in your early childhood setting.  Choose goals that are important, that have meaning to the child, are developmentally appropriate and that will make a significant difference for your child.

Keep goals small, really specific and achievable to target in natural early childhood routines.

Achieving these small goals helps the child to inch towards achieving those big, longer term goals whilst being motivated by small wins and success along the way.

Some examples might include:

XX will understand and follow 2 step instructions during lunch time e.g. “Get you lunch box…..and get your hat”.

Remember to also note the supports that you are going to infuse into these goals to set the child up for success.  In the above example it might be that you will call the child’s name first, get down to their level, place yourself face to face with the child when giving the instruction and slow your speech down.  You might also include gestures such as pointing and pictures of the items that the […]


My Child is Difficult to Understand

There can be many reasons why your child’s speech may be difficult to understand.

Your child’s age and stage of speech and language development are one of the first things we will consider.

Children gradually become easier to understand.  By school age, we expect that your child’s speech will be easily understood by all conversational partners.  There may still be a few tricky sounds and longer words may still be unclear at times but, as a general rule of thumb, by the time a child starts school we can understand most of what he or she says.

There is quite a wide amount of variety around when children acquire speech and language milestones.  If you have any concerns it is best to seek the advice of your child’s educator as a first port of call.  Educators have the benefit of working with a large group of children a similar age to yours.  If your child is more difficult to understand than other children his or her age, then it may be worthwhile to seek a Speech Pathology opinion.

When do Speech Sounds develop?

Different sounds develop at different stages.  We often refer to the early, middle and late sounds when working with young children.

Most consonant sounds are acquired by the age of 5;0 years (years;months).  The consonants /b, n, m, p, h, w, d / are usually acquired between the age of 2 and 3 years followed by /g, k, f, t, ng, y/ which are heard in child speech by the age of 3;11.  By the age of 5 years, children are using /v, j, s, ch, l , sh and z/ accurately.  The ‘r’ sound is usually used with accuracy by 6 years of age and the ‘th’ sound by 7 years of age.

My child is speaking in ‘gobbeltygoop’!

Some children need assistance to learn how to use words in simple sentences.  When using spoken language is difficult or lagging in development, they may substitute what sounds like ‘gobbeltygoop’ for words at times.  Speech Pathologists may refer to this as ‘jargon’ and it simply means that your child is likely to be using combinations of sounds and syllables to communicate instead of words.  Often children will do so using correct intonation and facial expressions to help the listener understand what is being communicated.  These children often respond well to a focus upon building up their vocabulary and sentences first before focusing upon specific speech sounds.  Our popular ’10 Tips for Talking’ may be an appropriate place for you to start if this sounds like your child.

Tune in and Listen

Are there any particular sounds that your child has difficulty in using accurately?  Perhaps start a little list, noting words that are misarticulated.  You might start to see a pattern.

Do I need to be concerned?

Check out our developmental checklists and further information in our guide available for free download  or contact us  The earlier your child receives assistance; the better […]


A Lazy Talker?

We hear this so often in our work as Speech Pathologists; a comment often made or question posed by parents or educators about children who have speech, language and communication challenges.

Yes, children may have delays in their development.

They may have specific challenges in areas of communication.  They may have speech sound disorders which result in them being difficult to understand.  They may not talk much at all.

None of these scenarios suggest to me, however,  that a child is choosing to be lazy.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Using clear, spoken language is the most efficient and effective way for us to communicate with others.

Not using clear, easily understood spoken  language creates far more ‘work’ for a child than does using words.  Think about it for a moment as we put ourselves in a little child’s shoes.  If you were limited to pointing and grunting / whining to communicate your needs to another human….imagine the scope for misinterpretation and the limited range of methods you would have access to in order to then clarify your message.  Incredibly frustrating, right!?  If you were learning how to say a new sound and could finally say that new sound correctly in words AFTER your parent WHEN your parent was using lots of gesture and support (phew, that took lots of work) …it would take lots and lots of practice before you could use that new sound in words and sentences during everyday conversation when that adult support was not readily available.  Imagine for a moment that I requested you to say all of the words you currently use that start with a /b/ sound and to change these to starting with a /f/ sound.  I want you to do this at all times, with all people in all situations.  You can say a /f/ sound right?  Okay, so what is the problem?  Are you being lazy?  Hmmmmm…..

In each of these scenarios,

laziness is simply just not a factor when we really boil it down and look at what is going on for a child.  Learning to use speech and language happens gradually and when children experience hiccups in their development for whatever the reason may be (yes, a topic for another blogpost), we do them a disservice if we describe those challenges as arising due to a child being lazy.  Would we describe a child learning a new skill such as how to ride a tricycle but stumbling along the way  to achieving this goal as ‘lazy’?  No, we would see this for what it is…a child learning a new complex motor skills and needing lots and lots of practice until this skill becomes automatic.  Learning to talk and to communicate takes practice. Young children are still learning.

Yes, all of us can be lazy from time to time and display this in our mood and behaviour but rarely is it a cause or even a factor when working with children who have genuine challenges with speech, language and/or communication skills.

So, what can […]

Why Vocabulary is Key

Possessing a strong vocabulary is just one of those things that will help you to get wherever you want to go in life.

There are well documented connections between the size and quality of your vocabulary whilst still at school and your income level in the future.

Vocabulary size is a reliable indicator of your skill in reading, writing and speaking as well as of your general knowledge of science and history.

Vocabulary is also key to children enjoying reading and comprehension.

Readers cannot understand what they are reading without knowing what words mean.

As children learn to read more advanced texts, they must also learn the meaning of new words that are not part of their oral vocabulary.

So… whilst vocabulary is important for academic and occupational success, there is another good reason to boost your child’s vocabulary;

and that is the link between vocabulary and happiness.

We communicate to others as well as to ourselves internally using words.

We grasp new concepts and ideas by interpreting words.

Words help us to communicate our thoughts and feelings and to build strong relationships with others.

Developing your child’s vocabulary is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to improve your child’s chances of success and happiness in life.  Sharing a story together, playing alongside your child, making time to talk during every day routines, commentating, labelling and describing what you can see in your environment; each of these activities will build emotional connection, relationship bonds and vocabulary for your child.

Children can learn new words at an incredibly fast rate when they are young

The most important predictor of how well a child will do so is the number of words that children hear from adults.

Language is really one of our greatest gifts that we can give our children.

When children experience more child-directed conversations they have larger expressive and receptive vocabularies by the age of 2 years than when they simply overhear adults using speech in their surroundings.

Although differences in verbal and intellectual abilities between individuals are influenced by a range of factors including genetics, the contributions of early carer-child experiences are substantial.  If you would like some tips for talking with your child in a way that will boost vocabulary then download our FREE 10 Tips for Talking.

So, will all of this in mind…

Over this holiday period, remember that your presence is the most precious gift you can give your child.  A few minutes of your time every day is all it takes to build your child’s vocabulary from an early age and set him or her up for success at all stages of life.


Late Talkers

My Toddler is Not Talking Yet.

Should I be concerned?  What can I do to help?

These are comments and questions that we hear quite frequently when concerned parents contact us at Learn2Communicate.  So many parents have, what they describe as, a niggling doubt about their child’s speech and language development.  At first, they may rely upon the well-meaning advice of loved ones.  Being told ‘Don’t worry.  He will grow out of it’ or  ‘Your father didn’t speak until he was 4’ can temporarily put those worries aside but, unless that little toddler starts to talk soon after, such comments rarely help to allay a parent’s worry.  Before long someone will surely say something  along the lines of ‘I think he should be talking by now’ or ‘Your child should have 50 words by this age’.  Although such comments often tip a parent into action; these types of comments can also fuel a parent’s concern and do little by way of assisting the parent in knowing what to do next and when to do it.

For those of you reading this post and think ‘Ahhh…I do have concerns about my child’s language development’, then please read on as we have some simple tips to get you started and to help you feel  empowered with the knowledge, skills and capacity to nurture your child’s communication development.  There is much that you can do to help young children learn how to communicate. All children can become effective communicators…even those who have a significant degree of disability and other co-morbid conditions.  Okay, read on for some great tips to get started!

The ‘WHY’ of Communication

Sit back and observe your child for a few days.  Take note of the reasons WHY your child communicates.  Take your focus off which speech sounds your child can or cannot say for now.  Just ask yourself WHY does my child communicate / for what communicative purposes?

Some reasons why you child might communicate include to express:

  • Greetings / Farewells
  • Request for items, food, drink and actions e.g. to be lifted out of the highchair, to go outside
  • Comments about what he or she is interested in or is noticing
  • Responses to your simple questions and to your requests to follow simple directions
  • Enjoyment, excitement, frustration, protest and rejection

The HOW of Communication

Some of the many ways in which your child might communicate these intents might include:

  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice
  • Gestures including pointing
  • Speech ‘jargon’ that is unintelligible but that has the intonation of language
  • Single words
  • Short phrases

Identify any gaps in the WHYs of communication

Communication is a complex dance between people that goes back and forth in a reciprocal relationship.  Communication involves far more than identifying body parts or imitating words after an adult requests a child to ‘say…’.  Look for the gaps in your child’s communicative intent.

Perhaps your child can wave hello and bye bye but may not yet be communicating for the purpose […]

Talking Time with your Child…Make it an Atomic Habit

I have recently been reflecting upon how our daily habits all contribute to our long term health and wellbeing after reading the bestselling book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear.  For those of you who attended our face to face Learn2Communicate events throughout the Central West of NSW earlier in 2022, you would already know this.  I haven’t stopped thinking about the idea of applying this concept to my work as a Speech Pathologist.  How can we make small and easy changes to our daily routines and interactions with children in a way that will have a powerful impact?

We know that children respond well to frequent, positive interactions with a loving caregiver and that child acquisition of oral language skills can be boosted in the early years via such interactions. As a Speech Pathologist and also as a Parent, I also know that providing families of children who have speech, language and communication challenges with comprehensive, detailed ‘home programmes’ in order to provide this boost to oral language can be ineffective.  Add to this the request by the Speech Pathologist to “complete this home programme with your child at least 3-4 times per week and try to spend 15-30 minutes during each practice time” and we see many parents opting to run for the hills!

What if we could, instead, infuse some new powerful habits into everyday routines and that these habits were easy yet effective in helping all children become effective communicators?

How can we make Talking Time with Children a new Atomic Habit that each and every one of us can adopt?

Here are some ideas I would encourage all of you to consider!

Start by identifying what the exisiting routines are during your day that involve you and your child.

Write these down.  A routine doesn’t have to have many steps; it is simply just something that happens on several days each week with some degree of predictability.  Some examples I can think of with a toddler in mind might be: getting into the car seat, packing a bag for daycare, bath time, story time at night, getting dressed, breakfast, snack, lunch and dinner time, parent returning home from work time, bed time.  Perhaps keep a blank piece of paper on the fridge for a week and note every small little routine that you can think of as it occurs.

Now…choose one of those routines and write down the ‘script’ for what happens. Here is an example for a fictional child. Let’s call him Dylan:

Snack Time after Preschool

Mum opens front door.

Mum and Dylan walk inside.

Mum takes Dylan’s backpack and unpacks drink bottle, lunch box and hat.

Mum puts each of these items away.

Mum takes Dylan’s shoes off.

Mum opens fridge and makes Dylan a snack of carrot sticks and hummus.

Mum lifts Dylan to sit at kitchen bench and places snack in front of him.

Mum says “time for afternoon tea”

Dylan eats snack whilst mum […]


Many Ways to use our Fun Friends Cards

So many ways to use our Fun Friends deck of cards for listening and talking development. Asking questions, listening, providing rich descriptions and learning about emotions…. We love resources that have plenty of different applications and this is definitely one of them!

Order your copy from our website today



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