How can we support babbling and early speech development? SLT tricks and tips
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How can we support babbling and early speech development? SLT tricks and tips

My baby isn’t babbling and developing speech – what can I do to support?

While every baby develops at their own pace, if your child isn’t babbling by nine months, it’s worth seeking help from an Early Intervention Health Professional, such as a doctor and a speech therapist. Don’t panic! There are many reasons for delayed babbling, and early intervention is key.

In the meantime, it is highly recommended that we talk, sing, and read to our baby often. Exaggerate sounds and expressions, and respond to their coos and smiles. This playful interaction helps stimulate their communication skills.

Below are some tips and tricks from my experience of working with babies and toddlers who need a little bit of help and support to develop.

The benefits of imitating your baby

Copying your baby’s sounds and gestures isn’t just silly fun, it’s a powerful learning tool! By mimicking their babbles and actions, you activate “mirror neurons” in their brain that help them connect sounds with meaning. This playful back-and-forth teaches turn-taking, a foundation for conversation. Plus, it encourages them to copy you, building their own language skills and social interaction abilities.

This is a nice clip on youtube showing how copying/imitating your baby looks like:

Here are some fun ways to imitate your baby:

  • Matchmaker: Grab two of the same, or two similar toys your child loves, like rainmakers or shakers. Give one to your baby and keep the other for yourself. When your child plays with his/her toy, mirror his/her actions with yours! This creates a fun, interactive game.
  • Face Time: Get down to your baby’s level, sitting opposite him/her on the floor or kneeling. This makes eye contact easy and encourages him/her to look at you during your playful imitation.
  • Be the Funniest You: Go all out with silly faces, exaggerated sounds, and big gestures. The goal is to capture your baby’s attention and make you irresistible to watch. This playful energy encourages him/her to interact and potentially imitate you back!

By incorporating these tips, you can turn imitation into a fun and engaging way to boost your baby’s communication skills. I have seen this happen numerous times over the past decades. It is very powerful, go ahead and try it! You cannot be silly and goofy enough!

Great toy ideas:

Did you know that speech and language development starts with how we talk to our babies?

Adults naturally use a special way of speaking called motherese. It involves a higher pitch, slower pace, and exaggerated sounds compared to regular conversation. Sentences are simpler, with shorter words and repetition. This grabs babies’ attention, helps them distinguish sounds, and reinforces word meaning.

Imitation is a key part of motherese. We wait for our baby to make a sound or gesture, then playfully imitate it with exaggeration. Babies notice this right away and often respond with more vocalisations, creating a mini conversation. This back-and-forth teaches turn-taking, a foundation for future conversations.

By responding warmly and engaging in these playful interactions, we encourage our babies to keep exploring the world of communication. Talking, singing, reading and, of course, imitating, these simple actions can have a big impact on a baby’s language development.

Once your conversation is underway then try and keep it going for as long as possible. It’s a beautiful dance of turn-taking, even without words!

A last word on oxytocin

There’s evidence suggesting early non-verbal communication with your baby can increase a mother’s oxytocin levels, often called the ‘love hormone’. This hormone plays a key role in bonding and social connection. Positive interactions, touch, and stress reduction all contribute to oxytocin release, strengthening the mother–baby bond.

For parents of babies with extra needs

The stress of caring for a child with medical needs or developmental delays can be difficult. Stress can lower oxytocin levels, creating a cycle of sadness for both parent and child.

Breaking the cycle:

  1. Knowledge is Power: Understanding the importance of communication can empower parents.
  2. Seek Support: Speech therapists and other healthcare professionals can provide valuable guidance on communication strategies.
  3. Start Small, Celebrate Big: Even small interactions can boost oxytocin. Focus on playful imitation and positive reinforcement. Remember, friends, family and healthcare professionals are there to encourage you.

This approach can help reverse the negative cycle and create a more positive and connected relationship between parent and child.

I hope this is helpful! Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

Kind regards

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Rethinking the PECS Approach
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Rethinking the PECS Approach

I want to talk about some concerns of SLTs, parents and increasingly autistic adults who explain to us how this communication method did not really work so well and why.

What is PECS in a nutshell:

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is based on the idea of exchanging pictures in return for desired items. For more advanced users, it is used to communicate different functions such as emotions, comments, negations using the exchange of a sentence strip. It was founded on the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA).

How does that look in practice?

In my experience, having been trained in the approach myself, the overall aim is eventually for the child to spontaneously go and get their picture book (PECS book), open it, look through a range of pages to select the correct picture of what they want to have or say, then go and find their communication partner, and finally place that picture onto the communication partner’s outstretched palm to be rewarded with an item or with a response of some sort. Or the child selects a range of pictures to create a little sentence, such as: ‘the blue fish swims in the sea’, ‘the red bird flies in the sky’ or ‘I see a red bird’ for example. This can be part of a structured table top activity.

The system follows a series of phases, starting from simple picture exchanges to eventually construction of sentences using symbols. PECS’s aim is to promote communication initiation and reduce frustration for those who struggle with speech.

So far so good one might say, why not? Before I go into the various concerns, I would want to add my own working experience with PECS, and whilst it is my opinion, I would say I have NEVER seen a working PECS book being used spontaneously!

My experience

I have seen attempts of stages 1 and 2 done quite well, in schools, and where people knew that I was coming in “to have a look at how PECS is working with child X”. Yes, in those instances an effort was made of course to try and show me how it worked. I must add that have never been very impressed. I cannot recall it used for any other items than: biscuits/quavers/crisps/ raisins and bubbles/puzzle pieces or spinners.

If we want to see a child trained to exchange for these items in a structured setting, i.e., the child sits at a little table with the adult sitting opposite enticing the child with one or other item, then yes that can be done successfully. I have seen children exchange 25 pictures with a crisp on it, for said crisp and they might have asked for another 25 of those crisps given half the chance. Yes. Good. But. I have yet to see a child go to their PECS book and go through all the motions that I mentioned above to get a crisp. In school they don’t need to: they know that crisps are only available when the PECS book is being practised. Otherwise, let’s be honest, it’s fruit at 10.30 am!

So, they don’t get a spontaneous opportunity to ask for highly motivating items as that is not how school works, is it? ‘SIR! Can I have a crisp?’ At 10.02am, in the middle of maths? Didn’t think so… So in reality this does not get practised in my experience.

A few concerns in no particular order:

Limited Generalisation

One issue often raised is the limited generalisation of skills learned through PECS. The structured nature of the program may result in a child only being able to communicate effectively within the specific contexts where they were taught to use the system (as I suggest above: crisps: yes, please let’s do the PECS for it). This limitation can pose challenges when trying to apply communication skills in new or unstructured/spontaneous situations.

Lack of Spontaneity

Critics suggest that PECS can sometimes lead to scripted and less spontaneous communication. This is also what I have observed. Since the method is designed to follow a structured progression, there is a concern that individuals might struggle to initiate communication outside of the established framework, potentially hindering their ability to engage in more natural interactions.

Narrow range of communication functions being practised

While PECS is quite successful in focusing on requesting and naming items, there are many other important communication functions, such as expressing emotions, asking questions, giving opinions or greetings for instance. We can argue that a communication core board where we have a whole range of different core words available lends itself much better to practising a range of communicative functions.

The Pictures are movable

They are attached to the book via Velcro. They are constantly being picked and exchanged and then returned to the book. This means that the pictures tend to be always in different places. This goes against the motor planning that takes place when one is learning a new skill: imagine you want to learn to touch type and the letters always move and are at different places? How can you be quick about finding a letter? You can never get to “automatic” with this type of approach.

Communication is not taught via behavioural means

Only if you say “banana” in the way that I dictate that you should will you get a piece of banana. Who does that? Nobody. Typically, child points to the counter where there is a banana and says: ‘ba’ or ‘ana’ and mother/carer will look over there and say ‘oh banana! You want a banana? Ok there you go have a piece.’ Or something like it. Mother will not say: ‘SAY BANANA or else you won’t get it.’ Child hears mum saying ‘Banana’ each time and with time will point and say ‘banana’ or ‘I want-a-nana’ or something. This is how communication is learned: through the adult modelling it cheerfully all day long and the child hearing it and then gradually copying it.

One other gripe I personally have but I am reliably informed by all my parents that they share this about PECS:

IT IS SO LABOUR INTENSIVE!

There are 10, 50, 100’s of little pictures that first of all need laminating… then velcroing, then finding and replacing. As I said above, it’s a constant moveable feast for one, but also you LOSE them. Yep. You want to find the picture for “trampoline”. ‘Where is it? I saw it yesterday… We had it outside when we practised you asking for the trampoline. I am sure we put it back? Where is it??? Ok. We need to print off a new one.’

It is also labour intensive for the first stage where you need to have TWO adults to ease the exchange (pick up and release of picture into the communication partner’s hand). Who has two adults available for what can be weeks until the child is able to pick up and release by themselves?

YEP. So it’s really not for me you can tell! I much prefer Core boards (see my previous post on using one) or electronic speech generating AAC devices like GRID, or LAMP or TOUCHCHAT. These are all great to use and there is good support out there for introducing these.

Finding a Balance

While the concerns surrounding the PECS approach are valid, it’s fair to note that the method also has some merits. There is anecdotal evidence of many individuals who have successfully improved their communication skills and quality of life through PECS. But, finding a balance between using PECS as a stepping stone and ensuring the development of more comprehensive and SPONTANEOUS communication is key.

As educators and therapists, we need to extend the focus beyond requesting and labelling by incorporating symbols that represent emotions, actions, and more complex ideas. This expansion encourages a broader range of communication functions. When the time is right, gradually transitioning from PECS to more advanced communication methods such as Core boards or electronic AAC tools and speech-generating devices is the way forward.

We want to value all communication equally and our approach ought to be playful and child-led and to focus on intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards and reinforcers.

If you have any questions or if you are looking for a therapist who endorses play-based and child-led therapy approaches, please do reach out.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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