Over the past three weeks, we have laid the groundwork for understanding how important early experience is relative to a child's cognitive development. We have stressed the importance of opportunity and ability as foundational for a child to begin and sustain the process of making sense of the world. With those considerations in mind, in the weeks ahead we will discuss the developmental milestones that suggest typical skill development and mastery, with particular emphasis on the emergence of communication skills.
Now as it relates to communication skills, it is important to note that a child's communication skills are highly related to his success in the early elementary grades. Said differently, children that possess and utilize age-appropriate communication skills, by school age, generally do well in kindergarten and beyond. Conversely, if a child does not possess age-appropriate speech and language skills, the risk for school difficulties is increased. Thus, our awareness and promotion of speech and language development is an important component for school success. Please keep those considerations in mind as we describe some of the earliest milestones of communication development in infants and toddlers.
There are two things worth considering as it relates to the earliest of experiences a newborn has. First is the response of the mother, almost immediately following the birth of her child. Now it is worth noting that mothers throughout the world say virtually the same thing after delivering their child. Once they know that their child is healthy and have asked the appropriate questions, mothers universally utter a simple request. This is their first utterance directed toward the child as opposed to statements about the child. Further, not only does the professional literature support this but I have witnessed this as part of my professional activities in birth contexts throughout the world, even though I did not know the language that was being spoken.
Mothers throughout the world say something like; "come see me, let me look at you, let me see your eyes, let me see your face." Hence from a biological standpoint, mothers appear driven to facilitate face to face contact with their newborns shortly after birth. Thus it is reasonable to assume that a mother's requests to make face to face contact with her newborn are part of her biological makeup.
Now combine that with another significant fact regarding newborns. It is a developmental reality that infants under four months of age are primarily interested in gazing at faces above anything else. When given a choice, a child will voluntarily direct his visual attention toward faces as opposed to objects. This preference is noted from the earliest of newborn experiences, and is present in infants throughout the world, regardless of the birthing practices into which they are born.
Can you see the connection? Both mothers and infants are biologically driven and drawn to initiate and mutually engage in face to face interactions. This behavioral pattern is where the earliest communication development begins? And further, if anything impedes such interactions, the risk for communication delay increases?
Indeed, mothers and infant are compelled to make and sustain face to face contact, thus initiating the process of communication development. Quite amazing, don't you think?
As we continue this discussion in the weeks ahead, we will explore several of the common events that characterize how mothers and infants interact. The process is incredible and complex. It has a significant impact on how our children make sense of and become important participants in their world.