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Pragmatic Language Milestones: 0-6 Years

How do you know when a conversation partner is losing interest? If a question is appropriate? Or how to carry on a conversation? Pragmatic language, or social communication, helps guide us through these types of situations. It is the language we use within social situations; the unspoken “rules” of conversation and storytelling. This includes what we say and how we say it, including non-verbal communication (e.g., body language, eye contact). Not only is pragmatic language important for our everyday relationships, but these skills directly transfer into the classroom (where our kids spend a lot of their time!). At school, students are required to work in groups and communicate with their peers and teachers for a variety of purposes.

Pragmatic language ability level affects how each individual behaves and interacts throughout a given situation. For some children, these skills must be explicitly taught. Children with pragmatic language difficulties may misinterpret other peoples’ communicative intent, and therefore have difficulty responding appropriately either verbally or nonverbally.

Pragmatic Language Milestones:

Age 0-6 Months:

  • Laughs, giggles, smiles, and vocalizes in response to or to interact with familiar adults

  • Uses different cries to communicate, such as to indicate hunger vs. discomfort

  • Visually tracks movement (people, toys, their hands)

  • Turns their head in response to their name and sound sources

  • Engages with others (e.g., reaches for objects, smiles when spoken to, shows recognition of familiar voices), showing preference for familiar people

Age 6-12 Months:

  • Recognizes familiar people and some familiar names

  • Shows enjoyment when interacting, such as during social routines (peek-a-boo)

  • Initiates by vocalizing to interact and gain attention

  • Independently uses some gestures, such as reaching their arms up (to be picked up) or reaching for a preferred object

  • Responds to “no”

  • Imitates actions of others

Age 1-2 Years:

  • Uses words and gestures to request objects, to indicate “no”, and to respond (may vocalize or repeat words to respond)

  • Shows adults objects for shared enjoyment

  • Uses words and gestures for common social functions, such as “hi”, “bye”, and “please”

  • Makes eye contact to acknowledge communication attempts

  • Engages in parallel play and simple pretend play

  • Engages in verbal turn-taking

  • Begins to imitate an adult’s intonation in speech

Age 2-3 Years:

  • Engages in associative play and “make-believe”

  • Begins telling short stories about their experiences and sharing fantasies and jokes

  • Initiates and engages in short conversations with self, dolls, and others

  • Expresses emotions (excited, tired, thirsty)

Age 3-4 Years:

  • Takes on other roles during play (e.g., plays the role of “teacher” or “parent”)

  • Engages in turn-taking during cooperative play

  • Verbalizes their personal experiences to relate to others

  • Uses words and questions to clarify information

  • Begins engaging in dramatic play

  • Expresses emotions and ideas

Age 4-5 Years:

  • Uses direct requests with others, explaining their reasoning (e.g., “Stop. I’m building a tall tower”)

  • Invites others to play and uses language to problem solve during play

  • Engages in competitive activities/games

  • Has control over the elements of conversation

Age 5-6 Years:

  • Asks questions to gain information/knowledge

  • Differentiates communication between familiar and unfamiliar people

  • Engages in more components of cooperative play, such as fair play, group decisions, or assigned roles

  • Maintains conversational topics for at least four turns

  • Tells coherent stories to others, including more detail

  • Asks permission to use someone else’s belongings

  • Responds appropriately to who, when, and where questions

Read more about social communication benchmarks and social communication disorders on the American Speech Language Hearing’s (ASHA) website.

Children struggling with social language may benefit from direct instruction on how to engage with others in social settings or how to appropriately participate in a conversation. Speech language pathologists work with individuals who have difficulty with social communication by supporting their understanding and use of language across a variety of places (e.g., school, home, play settings, group activities, etc.). Providing strong language models and role playing situations in real time may also assist children with pragmatic language difficulties. Some examples of social communication that can be addressed in therapy include:

  • Using appropriate greetings and salutations to help join and leave an established conversation

  • Generating and maintaining an appropriate topic of conversation.

  • Knowing when and how to change the conversational topic

  • Placing more importance on who to play with rather than what to play with.

  • Using different volume and tone of voice to match a situation.

  • Understanding figurative language such as the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs”

  • Understanding the perspective of others

  • Understanding humor and making jokes

  • Identifying and repairing communication breakdowns

  • Understanding sarcasm, or how to use sarcasm correctly

If you are concerned about your child’s pragmatic language skills, we can help! Contact us today.

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