Gestures outwardly reflect a child’s thoughts, feelings and cognitive understanding, as well as supplement their verbal language. Research shows that supporting the use of gestures in young children simultaneously supports the development of overall communication, and that the use of gestures is an indicator of their communicative ability later on. Gestures can include a variety of simple and complex actions, most often involving hand movements. By 12 months, children can typically show, grasp, give and point to specific objects, often to draw adult’s attention to them. A few months later, children may utilize pointing and grasping to make requests. At around 18 months, children typically begin to combine gestures with words in order to communicate more effectively. Iconic gestures are also used. This may look like pretend steering to represent a ‘car’ or thumbs up to indicate ‘I like it,’ or ‘it’s good.’ The use of gestures benefits the speaker (or non-speaking communicator) as well as the listener.
Gestures should be encouraged by parents and caregivers. One of the best ways to support the use of gestures is to model, model, model! During play, show your child how you can point to toys you want or like, clap your hands and demonstrate simple motions during songs, nod and shake your head yes/no when they indicate that they want or don’t want something, etc., and always try to pair the gesture with a word that best fits the meaning in order to support receptive understanding. Modeling gestures is a fun way to support engagement, imitation, turn taking, play skills, and communication before they even say their first word!
-Lillian Hallett M.S., CCC-SLP
Capone, N. C. & McGregor, K. K. (2004). Gesture development: A review for clinical and research practices. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 173-186.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2015). Gesture as a window onto communicative abilities: Implications for Diagnosis and intervention. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 22, 50-60.