Introduction to the Early Communication Indicator (ECI)

One of the most important missions of early intervention is to help children learn how to express their wants and needs. Whether the intervention is home-based or center-based, a critical outcome for our youngest children is to learn how to communicate. Learning to communicate is a widely accepted and highly valued General Outcome of early childhood. Programs for very young children need to know when they are making progress in becoming more proficient communicators and when to take action in the form of different intervention procedures. Programs also need to decide what types of supports children will need to help them become better communicators or when to supply in-depth assessment and referral for children not making acceptable progress.

Sample ECI Progress Monitoring GraphResearch indicates that expressive communication is a general outcome that parents and professionals identify as important for young children. The ability to express one’s wants and needs through expressive communication was one of 15 general child outcome statements investigated by a national sample of parents (n=351) and professionals (n=672) (Priest et al., 2001). Of the 15 general outcomes examined in the study, expressive communication was the most highly rated. Other general outcomes included movement, social competence, and problem-solving, among others (Priest et al., 2001).

The Early Communication Indicator (ECI) is one means of checking children’s growth toward the important outcome of being able to express themselves through their gestures, vocalizations, words, and sentences.

Because children’s rate of growth in communication is so critical for later success, monitoring individual children’s growth on the ECI can be important for making individual intervention decisions. Monitoring ECI growth for all children in a program can provide helpful information on program progress and inform programmatic decisions regarding this essential outcome. When used state-wide, monitoring children’s growth on the ECI can be an important indicator of program results at this level

Early Communication Indicator (ECI) Key Skills

General outcome divided into constructs of prelinguistic communication and spoken language, divided into gestures and vocalization and single words and multiple words respectively.

The Early Communication Indicator (ECI) for children birth to age 3 is a sensitive, easy to administer measure of communication (e.g., Luze et al., 2001). The ECI is a brief, repeatable, play-based, observational measure of a child’s communicative performance during a 6-minute play period with a familiar adult. The play session is standardized around one of two toys – either the Fisher-Price House or Fisher-Price Barn.

Four communicative behaviors, or Key Skill Elements selected and validated through research, make up the ECI’s total communication indicator: Gestures, Vocalizations, Single Words, and Multiple Words. These skills were initially selected based on a conceptual review of the literature and confirmed through validation with other criterion measures of expressive communication. These skills were selected to represent the prelinguistic domain (Gestures and Vocalizations) and the spoken or signed language domain (Single and Multiple Words). The Total Weighted Communication score is derived by summing these four skills and giving additional ‘weight’ to each single word (x2) and each multiple word (x3).

The following key skill elements were not included because they did not add to the sensitivity of the ECI: Coordinated Attention, because of its low frequency of occurrence and difficulty obtaining inter-observer agreement, and Social Attention or eye contact, because it did not show growth over time.