What Can I Do to Help with My Child’s Language Development? The Hanen Program

byRuthie Dearson, M.A., CCC-SLP

Parents are often told they are their child’s first and most important teacher. As true as this is, parenting is full of challenges, and when children don’t seem to be meeting typical developmental milestones, parents may feel they are not equipped to help their struggling children.

For children with developmental language delays and disorders, the Hanen program, It Takes Two to Talk is a powerful way for parents to learn how to adapt their own behavior and interactions with their children in order to help them communicate more effectively. The program helps parents understand different stages of communicative development, identify their child’s stage, and teaches simple, but effective techniques parents can incorporate into their daily routines to make a difference in their child’s language development.

Hanen’s More Than Words program is geared towards parents of children on the autism spectrum. This program helps parents identify what motivates their child to communicate, how to use pictures and print to increase their child’s comprehension, how to develop their child’s play skills, and how to talk so that their child can understand.

The Hanen programs offer simple strategies such as remembering to be face to face when playing with your child, observing your child to identify his/her interests, waiting in order to give your child a chance to say something, and listening to understand what your child is communicating. The strategies used are always paired with the child’s stage of development in order to progress towards more meaningful and purposeful communication and interactions.

By providing parents with tools and resources to help their children communicate during everyday activities, children are given many more opportunities to have successful interactions throughout their day. In the traditional speech/language therapy model, parents leave the room while the therapist works with the child, and then parents are given a summary of the session with some follow-up activities for home. Although suggestions for home are often useful, parents may be left feeling that they are not completely part of the therapy process. With the Hanen method, parents are involved in the assessment, goal writing, and intervention process. In fact, parents become the child’s primary language facilitator.

Strategies are taught to parents in interactive ways. After techniques are explained, videos of parents and children provide real-life examples. Parents are given plenty of opportunities to practice the new strategies and are given feedback either live or by reviewing a video tape of their practice session. Parents are coached during their practice sessions and leave each session with confidence that they know what to work on when they go home.

By becoming the primary language facilitator, carryover from the therapy room to everyday life is seamless, and parents gain confidence in their ability to help their children progress. The Hanen Centre is located in Toronto, Ontario. Their website offers resources to parents, therapists, and educators: www.hanen.org. The following books are excellent resources for parents: It Takes Two to Talk: A Practical Guide for Parents of Children with Language Delays by Jan Pepper and Elaine Weitzman and More Than Words: Helping Parents Promote Communication and Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Fern Sussman.