by Abby Sakovich M.S., CCC-SLP
Before a baby says his first words, the foundation for
communication, language, and learning begins to develop.
The interaction between a baby and his caregivers enables
social connection, develops linguistic and play concepts, and is
essential for later reading and academic success. It is through this
interaction that gestures, predictors of preschool language ability,
begin to take shape. Children should be using two new gestures a
month, resulting in 16 gestures by 16 months of age.
Gesture Timeline (* order in development may vary)
9 Months – Give / Shake Head
Instead of taking toys or objects from those around them, children
learn to give as well as indicate “no” by shaking and/or turning their head
away from undesired toys or food.
10 Months – Reach / Raise Arms
Children begin anticipating the reactions of others. They signal to be
picked up first with their arms reaching out, then with open hands facing
up and arms raised.
11 Months – Show / Wave
By this age, children are motivated to get and maintain others’ attention
by showing an object. Children are also motivated to participate in
frequent social routines, and begin to wiggle their hands to wave (i.e., a
mature wave develops later).
12 Months – Open-Hand Point / Tap
Gesturing becomes more intentional, and open-handed pointing and
tapping on objects is accompanied by grunting or early speech sounds to
better gain attention.
13 Months – Clap / Blow Kisses
Children begin to learn by observing and imitating others, particularly
when clapping or blowing a kiss.
14 Months – Index Finger Point / “Shhh”
As the “Shhh” gesture (finger to the lips) and index finger pointing begins
to develop, children are on the verge of becoming symbolic
15 Months – Head Nod / Thumbs Up / Hand Up
At this age, children begin using gestures that are like words, such as
thumbs up to indicate “yes.” These gestures shed light on what children
are thinking. These gestures also indicate that children know that they are
sharing ideas with others.
16 Months – Additional Symbolic Gestures
By 16 months, children continue to develop additional symbolic gestures
such as “high five” and “I dunno,” giving the learning of spoken words a
Children may acquire different gestures at different times depending on family and
culture. Additional communication milestones typically begin developing during these
9 to 16 months, including the use of eye gaze and facial expression to share attention
and emotion, an increase in the use of gestures and sounds, and more variation between
actions during play. During this period, the ability to comprehend the meaning of spoken
words is also emerging. Acquiring 16 gestures in 16 months is a crucial developmental
milestone for all children because it acts as the springboard into the 18-21 month
vocabulary burst, and acts as an early predictor of social language development, literacy
skills, and academic success.
It is important that parents are aware of speech, language, and social developmental
milestones so they can identify any gaps or inconsistencies along the timeline
children achieve them. Not reaching these milestones may indicate autism or other
developmental delays. The earlier a delay is identified, the sooner a child can receive
support to aid in the development process before significant delays are apparent.
“16 Gestures by 16 Months” by the FIRST WORDS® Project (2014). Retrieved 11/7/2016 from firstwordsproject.com/resources.