Image showing the ESI Conceptual FrameworkEarly Social Indicator

The Early Social Indicator measures progress toward social competence in infants and toddlers, ages 0-3. The ESI is a play-based observational measure of a child’s growth in social skills with toys, a peer, and a familiar adult during a 6-minute play period.

Three of 7 social skills and 7 composite scores were selected to comprise the ESI based on a conceptual review of the literature followed by statistical validation with other criterion measures of socio-emotional ability for children this age.

The key skill elements likely to evoke play and social interaction were: Negative behaviors, Positive Nonverbal, and Positive Verbal social behaviors. This framework separates the refinements-expansions in positive nonverbal behaviors expected in infants (i.e., smiles, gestures) from positive verbal social behaviors expected of children 12 months and older (i.e., use of words in greetings, bids to play, etc.). These positive nonverbal and verbal social behaviors are also expected to be distributed differently to adults, to peers, and to both persons (i.e., nondirected). Young children interact more frequently with adults than peers, with with peer interaction and play emerging in older children.

These skills were selected to represent the negative and positive social behavior domains, important to understanding a child’s current and future social-emotional adjustment across settings. Typically developing children tend to move from nonverbal to verbal social behaviors, demonstrating few, if any, negative behaviors. For children with disabilities, trajectories may reflect more frequently occurring negative behaviors in the case of externalizing behavior problems. Some children’s trajectories also may lack age appropriate positive social behavior due to internalizing behavior problems or due to delays in developing speech and/or signed or facilitated communication. These key skills combine to form separate indicators of Negative, Positive Nonverbal and Positive Verbal social behavior and a Total Social score.