The Role of Reciprocal Commenting in Speech Development

by | Jun 5, 2024 | News

When you think about how you communicate with others, you probably imagine some form of reciprocal commenting. This term means that two people speak back and forth to one another. They ask questions, add to each other’s comments, and make their own observations. Reciprocal commenting includes verbal communication and nonverbal messages like body language, eye contact, and physical gestures. This type of communication is an important part of pediatric language and speech development.

Examples of Age-Appropriate Reciprocal Commenting

Research published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology found that infants start mimicking the back-and-forth speech patterns of adults between 2 and 5 months. According to, reciprocal conversation starts as early as 6 months. At this age, infants may:

  • Make sounds when you speak to them
  • Hold eye contact for a few seconds
  • Look for the source of a new sound

By the time of your baby’s first birthday, you may notice that they:

  • Imitate parent speech
  • Say four to six words
  • Respond to simple statements like “no” or “get the ball”
  • Know and respond to their name

By age 3, most preschoolers can developmentally hold understandable reciprocal conversations with adults. They may know up to 500 words and can use them to express complex feelings and ideas.

At age 6, you’ll notice your child shows interest in conversations with others. They may ask questions or add relevant commentary. They can also tell stories with the correct time sequence, including both imaginary and real occurrences.

Around age 8 or 9, most kids know what’s appropriate to talk about with others. They understand when a topic should remain private.

Most kids can keep up in adult conversations by around age 12. They’re able to discuss many different subjects, complicated topics, and abstract ideas. They mimic slang used by older kids and can understand tone, body language, and advanced concepts like irony and sarcasm.

The Role of Reciprocal Conversation in Speech Development

When children struggle with reciprocal communication, it may be difficult for them to:

  • Stay on topic during conversations
  • Focus when others speak
  • Have casual conversations with others
  • Use appropriate nonverbal communication

If not addressed, these issues can cause challenges in school, work, and relationships.

Signs of Reciprocal Conversation Challenges

Issues with reciprocal conversation can have physical causes such as hearing loss. Developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may also create communication challenges. The UNC Autism Research Center notes that kids who struggle with reciprocal communication may:

  • Speak at length about a topic of interest even if the other person seems bored 
  • Fail to respond to a question or give a response that doesn’t logically follow the question
  • Struggle to understand cues about nonverbal communication
  • Share overly personal information

They may communicate at the level of a younger child or avoid talking to others.

Support for Reciprocal Commenting and Language Concerns

If your child struggles with age-appropriate reciprocal conversation, consider an evaluation with HEAR Center. A licensed speech and language pathologist will conduct a comprehensive assessment. We’ll connect you with the resources your family needs to address these concerns. Reach out today to schedule an appointment or connect online with our tele-practice service.

HEAR Center

HEAR Center was founded in 1954 by Dr. Ciwa Griffiths, who did groundbreaking work in the assessment and treatment of hearing loss in infants and children. This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing affordable hearing and speech services to all who need it through community outreach, innovation and collaboration. Schedule a consultation with HEAR Center today.

HEAR Center offers audiological evaluations, hearing aids, speech and language services, and more to California residents.

Call or text: (626) 734-6555

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Picture resource: Image by Anna Shvets