Written by: Timothy Spadzinski, OT Student Intern

Edited by: Annemarie Weeda, M.Sc., CCC-SLP, reg. CASLPO – Thank you Timothy! The TCTC team.


Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, quiet or loud – one basic human need is the need to communicate! As tired as we may be of having to communicate over online video chats, technology has allowed us to fulfill our human need to connect and communicate while in-person communication is so limited.

But how do we develop this skill to communicate and connect with other people?

You might be a parent looking to help your child improve their communication skills, or you may just be interested in learning something new. Either way, the topic for this week’s blog will look at how children develop one of the most important motor milestones and skills for human connection – Communication Skills, and specifically, Verbal Communication or Motor Speech.

What is Communication?

Simply put, communication involves sharing information with someone else. It can be influenced by the situation you are in, the emotions you are feeling at that time, the culture you were raised in, or the way that information is shared (i.e., verbal, non-verbal, written, visually) (Skills You Need, n.d.). Communication is so important as it allows a child to:

  • Express themselves. Communication is complex and as mentioned, involves emotion, culture, and a number of other influencing factors. Developing language skills allows a child to share those feelings and ideas with others around them.
  • Problem-solve. Being able to ask questions, share ideas, and work through a difficult situation with someone else can help a child develop problem solving skills.
  • Understand others. By developing language skills, a child learns how to listen, process, and understand the information they are hearing so that they can form a response.

(Raising Children, 2020).

As early as 6-8 months, infants may begin to make “babbling” sounds as they try to communicate with people around them, and by 10-12 months, some children may begin to say their first words. By 3, a child may have the ability to produce most sounds and form them into understandable words and sentences (Goshulak, 2016). Of course, these milestones vary between children, but you may now be wondering what happens before that 8 to 10-month period? How does a child go from nothing to something?

Motor Speech Production

One of the most efficient and effective ways to communicate however, is through speech – verbal communication. Research has shown that before they are even able to form their first words, infants develop motor plans for speech. Just by listening to someone speak, infants figure out the movements needed to respond (McElroy, 2014). In early speech attempts, infants use reflexive movements of their mouth (i.e., rooting and suck reflexes) and limbs (i.e., startle and grasp reflexes) to create these movements. As core muscle control develops (e.g., moving from crawling to sitting), stability and posture control improves and starts to become automatic. This allows the child to use and develop other motor control areas such as their oral-motor control (i.e., muscles of the jaw and mouth) (Goshulak, 2016). Oral-Motor control helps to refine mouth movements, making speech possible. However, just as communication is dynamic and complex, so are the key factors needed to develop speech sound production skills.

Key Factors in Developing Communication Skills

Sensory Processing allows a child to process the sounds they are hearing, create and store word representations in their brain.

Memory helps a child remember and recall the word representations they have stored. This helps them build understanding of the sounds they hear.

Motor Planning involves taking the word representations and planning how to move their body and mouth to create speech sounds.

Neuromotor System is the connection from the brain to the muscles. This allows a child’s movement plan to be executed.

Gross Motor Skills provide the foundation for a child to develop other motor control areas. Gross motor skills include muscle tone, strength, coordination, balance, and others. These skills help develop trunk, neck, and head control as well as postural support – “What we want from the lips, we must first get through the hips.”

(Goshulak, 2016; Hébert et al, 2014)


Speech Sound Production Difficulties are the most common childhood communication disorders treated by Speech-Language Pathologists. They involve a combination of difficulties in sensory processing, motor skills, and the mental representations of sound and speech (ASHA, n.d.). If not addressed, it can have a negative impact on a child’s social and academic growth. Here are a few things to look out for:

·       Hearing difficulties

·       Unclear speech

·       Difficulties opening/closing mouth, chewing, or swallowing

·       Late talking

·       Limited social interaction

·       Memory difficulties

·       Difficulties in strength, endurance, coordination and other gross motor skills



  1. “Parentese”. Speaking in an exaggerated way or imitating a child’s babbling back to them actually provides the child with sounds that can be more easily reproduced and helps them practice their oral-motor plans (Raising Children, 2020; McElroy, 2014).
  2. Slow down, Repeat, Give Feedback, and Cue. Helping your child learn new sounds or words using these steps will help strengthen the neuromotor system (See Motor Learning blog for more information) (Goshulak, 2016).
  3. Gross Motor Activities. Developmentally appropriate activities (e.g., Tummy Time, Animal Walks, Desk Activities, etc.) will help strengthen the muscular foundation needed to develop speech (Leonard & Hill, 2014; Iverson, 2010).
  4. Social Opportunity. Giving your child opportunity to socialize with others their age will help develop social skills and allow them to practice motor speech (Leonard & Hill, 2014; Iverson, 2010).

How TCTC Can Help:

In summary, verbal communication skill development requires a foundation of gross motor skills that allow a child to focus on and process sounds in their environment. Once this foundation has been established, infants can focus on developing their oral-motor function and create sounds of their own by listening to others speak and developing motor plans. By interacting with the environments and people around them, children practice these skills and refine their talking abilities.

If you believe your child is experiencing delays in speech sound production or other areas of communication, TCTC’s Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) can assess, provide recommendations and/or intervention to help with their communication development. As well, our Occupational Therapists (OTs) can assess your child’s gross motor skills and help develop the prerequisite core stability. Contact us today for more information or check out our SLP and OT programs currently available!


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association [ASHA]. (n.d.). Speech sound disorders-articulation and phonology. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935321&section=Overview

Goshulak, D. (2016). Making a difference: Best treatment practices for preschool and school-aged children with motor speech disorders [Workshop]. The Speech and Stuttering Institute: Toronto, ON.

Hébert, M., Kehayia, E., Prelock, P., Wood-Dauphinee, S. & Snider, L. (2014). Does occupational therapy play a role for communication in children with autism spectrum disorders? International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 16(6), 594–602. doi: 10.3109/17549507.2013.876665

Iverson, J.M. (2010). Developing language in a developing body: The relationship between motor development and language development. Journal of Child Language, 37(2), 229–261. doi: 10.1017/S0305000909990432

Leonard, H.C. & Hill, E.L. (2014). Review: The impact of motor development on typical and atypical social cognition and language: A systematic review. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 19(3), 163–170. doi: 10.1111/camh.12055

McElroy, M. (2014). Months before their first words, babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics. University of Washington News. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/news/2014/07/14/months-before-their-first-words-babies-brains-rehearse-speech-mechanics/

Raising Children. (2020). Language development in children: 0-8 years. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/development/language-development/language-development-0-8

Skills You Need. (n.d.). What is communication? Retrieved from https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/what-is-communication.html