This is excit­ing, a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist from Flori­da Atlantic Uni­ver­si­ty in Boca Raton, Flori­da, sug­gests that babies as young as 6 months are lip read­ers. My dai­ly work for 34 years has been to care for, observe and teach, babies from 6 weeks of age (from birth in the case of my own two sons!). My expec­ta­tions are always as high and opti­mistic when a young baby comes into group care as they are for one-on-one care. I par­tic­u­lar­ly look for high qual­i­ty eye con­tact cou­pled with babies feel­ing calm when they are in my arms. When those two fac­tors aren’t in place I men­tal­ly flag that baby, mon­i­tor them in the com­ing months and com­mu­ni­cate my ini­tial con­cerns to my colleagues.

I don’t know how many of you have watched car­toons with the sound turned off? When you final­ly do you will instant­ly recog­nise that you can’t under­stand a word that’s being said. You can’t lip read a car­toon. We adults need ani­mat­ed human faces to inter­pret what’s being said — which is also why phone texts are so often mis­in­ter­pret­ed, they lack the emo­tion­al intent of face to face conversations.

Lip read­ing requires the speak­er to be gen­uine­ly ani­mat­ed and expres­sive in their con­ver­sa­tion — what’s called ‘prosody’: how we put the emo­tion­al foun­da­tion, mean­ing and inter­pre­ta­tions into our con­ver­sa­tions. That’s why I always talk clear­ly to babies and from about age 9 months, some­times younger, I read to babies using plen­ty of sounds and changes in my voice tone — such sounds (made using…the lips!) force the child to look at your whole face and hope­ful­ly grasp mean­ing from your lan­guage and total expres­sion. When I read or sing to babies — they get it! It’s a fun way to learn.

I recent­ly reflect­ed on sev­er­al fam­i­lies (close to 10 or more now!) I per­son­al­ly know where at least one child strug­gled with their ear­ly use of lan­guage. In many of those cas­es the pre­dom­i­nant babysit­ter of choice at home was……cartoons! Help!

Many of those chil­dren as babies were also not held when drink­ing a bot­tle once they could hold it them­selves, or did not have a cozy nurs­ing rela­tion­ship (by obser­va­tion I not­ed that the moth­er and child con­nec­tion was­n’t present at what should be this most ten­der of times). Con­se­quent­ly those babies missed out in so many ways on con­nect­ing with their moth­er’s, then their car­er’s, face, reduc­ing even the pos­si­bil­i­ty of lip read­ing let alone good eye contact.

The oth­er week by chance I read in an online newslet­ter new par­ents had proud­ly pub­lished about their 4 month old that they includ­ed ‘her four favourite movies’ — three are car­toons! The par­ents do com­ment that they try to lim­it her view­ing, but…she’s only 4 months old! I was aghast and this new research from FAU goes towards prov­ing my theories.

We real­ly need plen­ty of gen­uine­ly ani­mat­ed human con­tact from birth to become gen­uine­ly ani­mat­ed human beings. 

Per­haps that’s how we’ll sub­vert the autism epi­dem­ic. Join me!