Cara Barthelette is a speech-language pathologist at a pediatric therapy practice in Boca Raton, Fla. She provides therapy for children of all ages with a variety of difficulties, including speech and language delays, autism, stuttering, and auditory processing disorder.
At just over six months of age, your baby should start responding to his or her name and may even recognize what “no” means. Is there anything you should look out for that could raise concerns? Cara Barthelette, Bundoo Pediatric Speech Therapist, shares the speech and language milestones your infant should be hitting around this age.
Bundoo: What sounds and sound combinations should a baby typically be making at this age?
Cara Barthelette: Babies at this age should use their voices to gurgle, laugh, and express excitement or displeasure. They should be babbling using a variety of sounds, such as p, b, and m. They will combine consonants and vowels (“baaa”), vowels and consonants (“ummm”), and will repeat the same syllable over and over (“bababa”). You may also start to hear your baby make more varied sounds and combine different syllables together, such as “memegaaa.” Babbling may sound like just a bunch of gibberish, but it’s actually an important skill that occurs before true speech and language develop.
In terms of receptive language, what do you look for in a typically developing baby when it comes to recognizing and reacting to other people’s speech?
With typically developing babies, there are several things to pay attention to when it comes to recognizing and reacting to other people’s speech. Babies around this age should be responding to the intonation of your voice. If you’re upset and speak sternly, your baby may also become upset. If you laugh or act silly, your baby may react in a similar way. Also, your baby may begin to understand “no.” If you see your baby put something in his or her mouth that shouldn’t be there and you say “no,” your child may understand your command and stop. Somewhere around this time, babies will also typically begin to respond to their names by turning to you when you call.
Around this age, many parents are concerned about eye contact, having read that babies who don’t make eye contact might have autism. Is that true, or is it too early to worry?
Although lack of eye contact doesn’t automatically mean a child has autism, it is a legitimate concern, since it can be one of the red flags for autism. Recent research has shown that lack of eye contact may be one of the earliest signs of autism in babies. If a baby does not make eye contact, parents should take it seriously and discuss the issue with their child’s pediatrician. If there is a problem, the sooner intervention is started the better.
What can parents do to help their babies better understand speech?
It may sound simple, but parents can help their babies better understand speech by getting down on the floor and playing with them face-to-face on their level. Games, such as peek-a-boo, that require turn taking between parent and child, as well as repetitive songs with hands motions strengthen speech and language skills. Babies learn a lot through repetition, so building predictable routines into play and repeating the same activities over and over in the same way are also very helpful.
Is there anything parents can do to help their babies learn more sounds or is this something that happens naturally and not something parents need to focus on?
While most babies do learn sounds and words naturally, parents can have a powerful impact on their babies’ speech and language development. When parents talk to their babies frequently, naming objects and describing daily routines with clear, simple words, it strengthens connections in babies’ brains that can enhance future speech and language abilities. Research shows that when parents listen to their babies’ babbling and respond to what they think their baby might be saying, it helps babies learn more complex sounds. Parents can also help their babies learn by encouraging lots of back and forth imitation and by repeating the sounds their babies make.