Developmental milestones

What to look for in a child’s communication?

Every child develops at a different pace. Please use this information as an approximate guide only and consult your doctor or a Speech Pathologist if you have concerns.

Interaction – Social & Play skills

First 12 months:
  • Interested in people & people games (e.g. peek-a-boo, tickles)
  • Pulls and bangs toys
  • Protests when desired objects are removed
  • Shows delight when you reply to them
  • Responds to their name
12-24 months:
  • Asks for help (verbal and non-verbal)
  • Requests desired objects by pointing, vocalisations or single words
  • Enjoys putting small objects in and out of containers
  • Emerging pretend play (e.g. drinks from a toy cup)
24-36 months:
  • Parallel play
  • Plays meaningfully with toys (e.g. doll house, tea set) acting out daily experiences
  • Engages in sequences of play
  • Watches other children at play with interest and occasionally joins in briefly
36-48 months
  • Pretend play including invented people and dress-ups
  • Likes to help adults with domestic activities (e.g. shopping, gardening)
  • Understands taking turns as well as sharing
  • Listens eagerly to stories and demands favourites over and over
48-60 months
  • Shows sense of humour
  • Enjoys singing rhymes and jingles
  • Enjoys listening to stories and acting them out in detail
  • Understands the need for rules and fair play

The child’s ways (How’s) of communicating

First 12 months
  • Cries, smiles, uses facial expression, looks, turns their head, makes sounds, reaches, shakes or nods head, points, gestures and vocalises (babbling)
12-24 months:
  • Imitates what adults say
  • Combines gestures and vocalisation
  • Uses sounds that stand for words
  • Occasionally or frequently uses single words
  • Echolalia may present
24-36 months:
  • Combines 2 or more words at a time
  • Uses sentences (initially nouns and verbs)
  • Begins to use pronouns (e.g. I, you, me)
  • Uses negation words (e.g. no, don’t)
  • Begins asking questions beginning “What?”, “Where?” and “Who?”
36-48 months
  • Uses 3 - 4 or more words in phrases/sentences
  • Begins asking questions beginning “Why?”, “When?” and “How?”
  • Exhibits multiple grammatical errors
  • Listens and tells long stories
48-60 months
  • Speaks fluently except some phonetic confusions
  • Defines concrete nouns by use
  • Constantly asks for meanings of abstract words

The child’s reasons (Why’s) of communicating

First 12 months
  • Protests, requests actions & objects, seeks attention, expresses feelings & interest
12-24 months
  • Shows something they are interested in
  • Imitates adult
  • Greets or says good-bye
  • Follows directions
24 months onwards
  • Labels or describes objects and people
  • Answers questions
  • Tells someone about what they are interested in
  • Asks questions


First 12 months
  • Recognises gestures and a few common words (e.g. up, bye)
  • Anticipates steps in daily routines
12-24 months
  • Follows simple directions (e.g. “Give it to me.”, “Throw the ball.”)
  • Points to some body parts
  • Understands “No” & “What” questions
  • Identifies familiar objects and hands them to adults when requested
24-36 months
  • Follows 2 part directions (e.g. “Get the book and put it on the table”.)
  • Understands “Where”, “Who” and “Whose” questions
  • Understands some prepositions (e.g. “in”, “on”, “under”)
36-48 months
  • Understands “Why” and “How” questions
  • Understands use of objects (e.g. “What do you use to drink water?”)
  • Understands descriptive concepts (e.g. big, wet)
48-60 months
  • Understands “When” questions
  • Understands long and complex sentences
  • Understands conjunctions, e.g. “so”, “because” and “if”

Paul, R. (2001). Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence: Assessment and Intervention (2nd Ed.). St Louis, Missouri: Mosby, Inc.
Sheridan, M. D. (1997). From Birth to Five Years: Children’s Developmental Progress. London: Routledge Ltd.

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