Prelinguistic Skill #2 – Responds to People… Resource List


This week we started a series to outline the 11 skills that very accurately predict which children are ready to talk and which ones need more help before talking is a realistic goal.


Today we’re looking at skill #2…




This milestone means that a child displays a consistent social response.


They enjoy being around other people and react to attempts to engage them.


Here’s why this skill is important for language development…


Communicating always involves at least 2 people.

When toddlers don’t respond to others, they self-isolate. They seem to be in their own little worlds and don’t know how to include others. It’s crucial that you address this area immediately. Interacting with others is the foundation for all communication skills!

Questions to help you decide if a toddler responds to others:

• Does your child smile and enjoy himself when someone plays with him?
• Will he look for you when he hears you coming?
• Does she notice when you’re not there and fuss or try to find you?
• Does he seem to ignore language?
• Does your toddler consistently respond to his or her own name?
• Does she regularly tune out or appear to be uninterested in other people?
• Does he seem to prefer objects, or things like TV, or apps on a tablet or phone over people?
• Is she unresponsive when someone talks to her?
• Does she interact fine with you but avoids, ignores, or “blows off” other people?
Sometimes parents characterize children who don’t respond to others with descriptions of personality traits such as shyness, being a loner, or keeping to oneself. They may say, “She really likes to do her thing.” Or they may say, “He has always been such a good baby. He barely makes a peep and never wants to bother anyone.”

These kinds of statements always leave me with knots in my stomach. Typically developing toddlers are social and even demanding. They want adults to notice them and to cater to their every whim. When we don’t hear that a child wants to be with his mother or another primary caretaker almost constantly, it’s a big red flag.
Responding to other people is essential for language development. Communicating always involves at least two people. If a child doesn’t routinely respond and interact when you try to talk with him, play with him, or teach him something, it’s highly unlikely he’s learning.

Any time a child of any age does not consistently respond to people, we should first rule out issues like hearing and vision problems. If those tests come back normal, we should diligently pursue helping a child learn to enjoy other people. This should be the top priority for every parent and all therapists, regardless of their field!


When a child doesn’t routinely respond and interact when you try to talk to him, play with him, or teach him something, it’s highly unlikely he’s learning anything! In my experience, parents first begin to suspect there’s a problem with a child’s development when he or she seems to ignore other people or avoid contact.


The good news is… YOU CAN MAKE IT BETTER!  


In my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, this area is the one that promotes change more quickly than any other milestone. Unless a child is already extremely engaged with a variety of people, strongly consider making social games a cornerstone of your initial work with a late talker. Even when children are already interacting, using these little games will strengthen your connection instantaneously. I use social games with every child I see and I am never disappointed. Each time I receive confirmation of the enormous value in this approach.


Hands-down, the very best activity for helping a child learn to respond to you is during social games. In case this term is new for you, a social game is any kind of parent-child routine that you establish and then repeat over and over. In American culture, routines like Peek-a-boo and Patty Cake are familiar social games for babies and parents. Favorites for preschool children who understand enough language to follow “rules” include Hide ‘n Seek or tag.

You can also make up your own social games to play with a toddler. Anytime you’re saying the same things and playing in the same way, you’re essentially making up your own social game! In the Activity Ideas Section, I’ve included one of my best original games that I’ve taught to families and other therapists with lots of success. It’s called “Ah… Boom!” and this very simple game is a real winner for toddlers who can’t play very many other games yet. This example should help you recognize any little games that you already play. Find it on page 73 in Let’s Talk About Talking and in a link below.
During my courses for professionals, I recommend that every therapist develop a repertoire of 10 to 15 different social games that they are ready to play with a child and his family at any given time. When I work with parents, I make sure they have 5 to 10 different games that work to engage their own toddler. If you need help coming up with your set of games, several are included in the Activity Ideas and Instructions section. I’ll also give you some resources for learning new games in the Additional Resources section on page 277 in Let’s Talk About Talking.


If you are looking to make the biggest, fastest impact on your toddler’s ability to communicate, this area is the one to try first! Strengthening a child’s social skills can make more of a difference than anything else for all late talking toddlers. I’ve seen tremendous improvements in very short amounts of time with the introduction of social games and a parent’s commitment to keep this going at home.


Social skill development and early communication skills are so interconnected that we KNOW that when a child’s social interaction skills are not typically developing, the child will have definitive differences in how and when he begins to talk.


When I begin to work with any child with a language delay, this is where we start!


It’s where you should start too!


Relationships and fun, loving connections are the foundation for learning to communicate. Kids must like being with you before they can learn anything from you, and this certainly includes learning how to talk.

If your child needs help learning how to consistently respond to others or if you’d like more information to help you decide, check out Let’s Talk About Talking. It’s so worth the investment to finally know what’s missing!


If your child is very social, listens when other people talk to him, and seeks out other people to get a need met or just to hang out, that’s fantastic! Move on to the next prelinguistic skill we’ll discuss soon…


There’s no toy list for this prelinguistic skill because YOU are the toy!


If you need more help learning to be playful and use social games, take a look at these resources:


Ah Boom! A Super Effective Social Game for Toddlers… a post about social games


Up Down… a pdf copy of a super simple starter game to share with parents and get you started playing


Teach Social Games… A Therapy Tip of the Week video… grab a laundry basket and watch!


Podcast  – Teach a Child To Respond to Other People… a one-hour show loaded with tips… Therapists, get one hour CE credit for $5.


Teach Me To Play WITH You is a therapy manual filled with social games. If playing social games is new for you and you’re not sure how to work on social interaction or what a child’s “goals” should be while you teach these games, then this book may be practice-changing for you! For parents, it’s the #1 resource I recommend when parents say to me, “I don’t know what to do.” If your child isn’t talking and you want to start working on that at home, this book will help you by teaching you how to play and what to say. Check it out here.



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