Building Children's Speech and Language Skills

Speech & Language Questions

-How will a parent/teacher training program help my child?

Language-learning can be a life-long journey, but the bulk of that journey takes place in our earliest years. In the first five years of life, when brain development is most rapid, children are more open to learning and more receptive to enriching experiences than they will ever be.

Studies have shown that during this critical period, children learn language by participating in back-and-forth interactions with the important adults in their lives. When a child sends a message, whether it be with a gesture, a sound, or a word, his parents' or teacher’s responses serve as helpful feedback that reinforce and encourage his learning. This responsive feedback is an essential ingredient in the language-learning process for every child.

If a child is communicating less than others his age, he is unlikely to receive as much of this essential feedback.  Because he isn’t talking, adults naturally communicate with him less, so he doesn’t get the optimal, helpful input he needs to build his language skills.

This is why it’s so important not to ignore any sign that a child’s communication development may be delayed.  Some parents are advised that their child will likely “grow out of it”, and they simply wait for the child to catch up. But a “wait and see” approach can be very detrimental during this critical learning phase. Since children with delayed speech or language delays can’t participate fully during activities and conversations, they may fall even further behind if they are not provided with the help they need.

On the other hand, when a child with a speech delay or language delay receives extra support from the important adults in his life, he can make significant gains. Early speech therapy intervention is critically important for these children to develop the communication skills necessary for future success in their academic and personal lives.   


-What is the Hanen Approach to Language Development?

The Hanen approach has led the way in changing early language intervention by putting parents first in order to help children best.

Many years ago, early language intervention involved speech-language pathologists "treating" a child in a therapy room with little or no parent involvement. In the early 1970's, research began to reveal that the involvement of parents in their child's early intervention was critical and that the earlier parents were involved, the better the outcome for the child. Research also showed that children learned best in their natural environments, where they were motivated to communicate with the important people in their lives. This required a significant change to the way speech therapy was offered to young children.

So, in 1975, Ayala Hanen Manolson, a speech-language pathologist in Montreal, Canada, developed an innovative program for groups of parents whose children had significant language delays. This program did something novel: instead of giving the children speech therapy once a week, Ms. Manolson gathered their parents in a group for a series of sessions and taught them how they could assume a primary role in helping their children develop improved communication skills.

The success of this program, which eventually became It Takes Two To Talk® - The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children with Language Delays, led to the establishment of The Hanen Centre and paved the way for the development of seven other Hanen Programs®; four for parents and three for early childhood educators.

-What is The Hanen Centre?

Founded more than 35 years ago, The Hanen Centre is a Canadian charitable organization with a global reach.

The mission of The Hanen Centre is to provide parents, caregivers, early childhood educators and speech-language pathologists with the knowledge and training they need to help young children develop the best possible language, social and literacy skills. This includes children with or at risk of language delays and those with developmental challenges such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, including Asperger Syndrome.

The Hanen Centre fulfills its mission by:
  • Creating programs in which groups of parents and other caregivers learn how to promote children's language and literacy development during everyday activities.
  • Training speech-language pathologists/therapists to lead Hanen Programs and to use the Hanen approach in their day-to-day work with families and educators.
  • Developing outstanding, user-friendly materials for parents and professionals that break down the latest research into practical, usable strategies.
  • Participating in leading-edge research in our field to ensure that our programs are evidence-based.
-Can a Hanen Program® be more effective than traditional speech therapy?
The following article excerpt is taken with permission from The Hanen Centre from

Parents as “Speech Therapists”: What a New Study Shows
By Lauren Lowry
Hanen Certified Speech-Language Pathologist

Traditionally, speech therapy with preschoolers involved parents bringing their child to a speech-language pathologist at a clinic. After an assessment, if the speech-language pathologist recommended it, the parent would bring the child for regular speech therapy. In this case, the sessions would be conducted by the speech-language pathologist, who would use specific techniques and strategies to improve the child’s communication. The parent would sit and watch the therapy, either in the room or behind a 2-way mirror. After the session, the parent would be given activities to practice with the child at home.

Changes to the Parent’s and Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role

Over the last several years, the roles of the speech-language pathologist and parent have changed a great deal. Parents are no longer observers of the therapy; they are an essential part of their child’s intervention.

This shift in roles is based upon the following:
  • Children learn to communicate during everyday activities and conversations with the important people in their lives – mainly their parents
  • Parents have many more opportunities to interact with their child in meaningful everyday situations than a therapist does
  • Parents know their child best and are her/his first teacher
  • Hanen Programs recognize parents as “key players” in their child’s intervention.
The programs are designed to help parents learn how to promote their young child’s communication at home. Under the guidance of a Hanen Certified speech-language pathologist, parents learn to use specific language-building strategies with their child during everyday activities. These strategies both motivate the child to communicate and help him develop more mature communication skills. There is no structured teaching involved. “Therapy” happens whenever parent and child are together, and the child learns while communicating about all the things that are most interesting, familiar and important to him.

In this way, “speech therapy”:
  • Is extended into every part of the child’s day
  • Involves communication between child and parent, not child and therapist
  • Involves play and daily activities (such as mealtime, bath time and bed time) that are familiar and meaningful to the child, instead of unfamiliar clinic-based activities
  • Can happen on an ongoing basis in the child’s comfortable surroundings
  • Is motivating and fun for the child!
When the speech-language pathologist teaches parents language strategies that parents then use whenever they are with their child, “therapy” becomes a natural part of the family’s interactions with their child. This is known as “parent-implemented intervention”.

-But does this really work? Are parents able to:
  • Make a difference in their child’s progress?
  • Help their child as much as a speech-language pathologist can?
Many parents wonder about their ability to help their child. They might feel that a speech-language pathologist, who has specialized training, would be better able to teach their child. But this is not necessarily the case...

Read more:

-What do parents who have completed the Hanen program say?

“After the very first Hanen class, I was hooked. The course is so interactive, and every strategy is explicitly taught with real life situations. It was comforting to know there are people out there going through similar situations to ours. Every week a new topic was introduced to give opportunities and reasons for children to communicate. The beauty of learning all these strategies was being able to put them into practice with our son, then having the instructors come, videotape, reflect with us, and give us feedback on the interactions we had with him. I would recommend the class to anyone without hesitation.”  

“I am grateful for the help I received in the Hanen program. When reviewing the videos of me with my daughter, I was able to see what I was doing right so I could continue with it, and I could see what I wanted to change. The instructors coached me and helped me make adjustments. Who knew these simple strategies could change us so much, in a good way? I now communicate at my daughter’s level and give her words she will understand. I notice a definite difference in my daughter. She is not so frustrated and I am making an effort to communicate with her more each day.”

“In class when we were setting goals, I always thought to myself, “My son won’t be able to do that.” But he surprised me and met those goals and more. He is using words with meaning, requesting with a purpose, making stronger eye contact and initiating play.”

“The program helped us understand our child’s behavior and interests. Before the program, he only used 1-2 word phrases to request things he wanted. He now uses 2-5 word phrases not only to make requests but also to make comments and ask questions. All within 10 weeks! To me that is amazing.”

“Before the program, I felt almost clueless as to how to talk to my child. Now I feel empowered knowing exactly how to encourage him to talk with me. I am well on my way to having a conversation with my son.”

“On the first day of the More Than Words class it was so nice to meet other parents who also had children with autism. Being a parent of a child with special needs, I felt like I was the only one in the world with a child who was different. Right away I was so grateful for the class. Getting to know all the parents and hearing their stories comforted my husband and me in a way I can’t express in words.”
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