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Any advice for encouraging a child to communicate with words rather than gestures?
Lenore and Tammy
I’m answering both of your questions together because they are so similar. First, a special answer to Lenore. It isn’t too helpful, is it, to have a specialist simply tell you what you’ve already observed—namely, that your son’s speech is a little delayed. You’re looking for a cause and possible treatment, and you get only a description. I don’t mean to belittle the therapist you took him to, only to empathize with you for what must have been a frustrating experience. If he is on target in other areas, as you state, he will probably catch up in the language area in a year or two.

Now to both of you, for at least the next year, regardless of whether your sons eventually need speech therapy, you and their dads are going to be the key people who can help them with their language development. First and foremost, you want to be careful not to make them too anxious about their speech. Try not to say things like, “Oh, come on, you can say doggie.” And accept any production they make without correcting them. It is fine to repeat the word slowly, emphasizing the correct sounds, but be sure to compliment any effort they might make. Say something like, “That’s right, dog-gie,” but resist the temptation to say, "That’s not how to say doggie.” Unless language is a pleasant experience for them, they will be in no hurry to learn it.

And don’t let a day go by without reading to them. Choose books that are simple, and involve them in the reading. That is, let them point to pictures that represent the words you read, or imitate the movements or gestures of characters in the story. Asking questions that allow them to point or to move their bodies for an answer will demonstrate whether they are comprehending the story. Later you can ask them to say some of the words in the story.

There are many other suggestions that might help, and I can’t get them all into this brief answer. May I suggest you both read a couple of other articles I have written for this web site—Word Processors Extraordinaire and From Babbles to Books.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education