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Pre-Intentional and Prelinguistic Communication 

Aug 13th, 2021 | by Amanda Wallace

Amanda Wallace

August 13th, 2021

What is Prelinguistic Communication?

Prelinguistic communication describes behaviors children display, both intentional and unintentional, to communicate their wants and needs. Some behaviors are natural reactions, while others are more purposeful in order to access and/or refuse items, participate in a social interactions, and give/receive more information.

Prelinguistic communication includes: 

  • Body movements/simple gestures 
  • Nodding/shaking head for yes/no 
  • Patting chest to indicate ‘my turn’ 
  • Holding out their hands to indicate they want an item 
  • Waving hello/goodbye 
  • Pointing  
  • Facial expression 
  • Smiling to welcome an interaction 
  • Frowning to express dislike 
  • Sounds 
  • Making car sounds to indicate a car 
  • Whining/crying to refuse an item 
  • Laughing to indicate something is funny/show enjoyment 
  • Eye gaze/Joint Attention 
  • Looking towards desired object and back to parent/guardian to gain access 
  • Shifting gaze between an activity/object and another person 

What is Pre-Intentional Communication?

Pre-intentional communication describes the natural and involuntary behaviors children display to show how they are generally feeling. Although they are not intentionally communicating, these behaviors are observed and interpreted by parents and caregivers to determine what the child may want or need.

Pre-intentional communication includes: 

  • Body movements 
  • Bouncing to show excitement  
  • Yawning when sleepy 
  • Reaching towards desired person/object 
  • Turning away to show disinterest 
  • Facial expressions
  • Smiling to show they like something 
  • Eyes wide when startled/scared 
  • A neutral face to indicate disinterest 
  • Sounds 
  • Crying to express discomfort 
  • Cooing/laughing to show enjoyment 
  • Loud vocalization/scream to express dislike  
  • Eye gaze 
  • Looking towards object/person to indicate interest 
  • Looking away to indicate disinterest

Activities for Pre-Intentional and Prelinguistic Skills

Pre-intentional and prelinguistic skills can be targeted through structured, play-based activities. Some activities to target these communication skills are listed below.

Cause and effect activities: 

  • Ball pops 
  • Button/lever toys 
  • Instruments 
  • Light up toys 
  • Toys that require body movement – shaking rattles/bells, kicking balls 
  • Switch controlled and/or other alternative communication device-controlled games.  

Related Reading: Must Have Cause & Effect Toys

Object permanence activities: 

  • Peek-a-boo 
  • Hiding & seek – Either with people or highly desired toys/objects and hiding within the child’s line of view. 
  • Mystery eggs/mystery box – Paired with sounds to indicate what may be inside the egg or box 
  • Related Reading: 3 Activities to Help Develop Object Permanence Skills

Turn taking activities:  

  • Kicking/tossing a ball back and forth 
  • Taking turns with cause-and-effect toys 
  • Manipulating/controlling highly preferred toys/objects to create instances where the child has no choice but to allow for turn taking.  
  • Related Reading: Our Favorite Turn Taking Toys for Toddlers

Imitation activities: 

  • Simon Says 
  • Nursery rhymes – Wheels on the bus, Old McDonald, If you’re happy and you know it, etc. Any music-based activity that creates an opportunity for the child to imitate a sound or any type of movement.  

Parallel play activities: 

  • Parallel play is playing with the same or similar toy/activity side by side with no demand for the child to imitate, interact, or engage with the other person.  

Associative play activities:  

  • Playing with the same toy/activity with the same goal in mind, but still working separately to accomplish the goal/end of the activity or game.  
  • Filling a bucket of sand together 
  • Building a block city  
  • Coloring a page 

Tips for Targeting Prelinguistic and Pre-Intentional Skills During Play

When targeting pre-intentional/prelinguistic skills during play, keep in mind to follow the child’s lead. It is important to build the activity around something the child highly prefers and finds fun to keep them motivated. It is also important to make sure that, during these activities, you are observing, waiting, and listening to your child. This provides them with ample opportunity to communicate something they find interesting, which then gives you with the chance to align your communication targets with their interests.  

Additional Resources

About the Author

Amanda is a Speech Language Pathology Assistant at NAPA Center, with more than 5 years of experience working in the communicative disorders field. As a bilingual therapist, she is motivated and determined to encourage communication in any way shape or form. She enjoys eating spicy foods, binge watching shows on Netflix, and eating mochi donuts with her husband, her cat, Hendrix, and her dog, Lebowski. 

About NAPA Center

NAPA Center is a world-renowned pediatric therapy clinic, offering speech therapy for children of all ages in traditional or intensive settings. With six clinic locations and intensive therapy pop-up sessions worldwide, NAPA is committed to helping children lead their happiest, healthiest lives. At NAPA, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

TAGS: Blogs, SLP
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