Communicative Gestures Used as a Predictor for Later Language

A variety of gestures have been shown to be a predictor for later language development in children with autism, children with Down Syndrome, and typically developing children. Gestures are described as actions produced with the intent to communicate and are usually expressed using the fingers, hands, arms, and facial features. Early use of gestures has been linked to increased language production, language comprehension, and object naming. A child’s joint attention skills, such as giving or showing objects may also predict later language skills. Lack of joint attention behaviors between the ages of 2 and 3 years old may be an indication of developmental deficits.

The frequency of gesture use as a form of intentional communication is an important factor when identifying children with communication deficits. Typically developing children use gestures to communicate about one time per minute by 12-months, 18-month-olds about two times per minute, and 24-month-olds about five times per minute. The amount of gestures used by infants is related to later verbal development.

Playing familiar games, singing songs, and performing routines can encourage children to utilize gestures as a form of early communication. Songs such as “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or using hand gestures to signal bubbles popping can become interactive opportunities for children. Communicative gestures in these familiar contexts can later be generalized to new contexts.