Most children will learn to use gesture before they start to talk, such as shaking their head to say “yes” or “no” or pointing to a toy out of reach. Children who have started to say their first words and combine them will continue to use gesture in combination with words (i.e., pointing to a doll and saying ‘doll’ or pointing to a car and saying ‘go’).
Gesture is a great predictor of later language development as research shows that late talkers who do not gesture much are at a higher risk of having long-term language delays than late talkers who use a lot of gesture. A speech pathologist will typically look at a child’s gestures when assessing potential late talkers.
Parents can support their child to learn new concepts and language skills by increasing their own use of simple gesture such as pointing to objects while naming them (i.e., car) as well as pointing while describing what they are doing (i.e., driving).