Autism and the Hanen approach: up-skilling parents to help children

Last month, the BBC highlighted the results of a study, which showed how upskilling parents can help improve their child’s autism. Genevieve Stanton, our speech and language therapist tells us her thoughts on it, and the special approach she uses to help parents support children with autism.

Girl child alone on swing

“Teaching parents clear tools and techniques can have a big impact on their child’s autism. I use a programme created by the Hanen Centre, called More Than Words. It’s designed specifically for children with autism, so it really caters for their particular needs.

“The program was originally developed as an 8-session training course and delivered to parents in small groups. It’s since been adapted by the Hanen Centre so that therapists like myself can deliver it in one-to-one sessions with parents.

“The goal is quite simple – I aim to help children with autism to reach their full communication potential. I give parents a range of tools, strategies and support to work towards this.

“The programme focuses on typical interactions between parents and children in day-to-day life. Everyday activities such as meal times, story time and bath time are turned into an opportunity to improve their child’s communication and social skills.

“In each session, I’ll focus on one particular goal or technique, so parents can learn in bitesize chunks. Between sessions parents can try it out at home, and afterwards we’ll talk about how they felt when putting it into practice.

“The BBC article describes it as ‘superparenting’ – but this shouldn’t be about putting pressure or blame on parents. It’s an ongoing learning process, and parents should feel completely supported by their therapist and able to ask as many questions as they need. Children will progress in their own way and at their own rate. As long as we are working as a team then everyone will get the best out of it.

“One of the biggest pitfalls I see is when parents bombard their child with too many questions. If children feel like they’re under pressure and are being tested all the time, then they can often become reluctant to talk.

“Simple changes to the way questions are phrased, or turning them into comments, can much more effective to encourage children’s language and communication development.

“And finally…if I had to choose the top 3 things parents can do today to improve their interaction skills? I’d say:

  • Be face to face with your child as much as you can

  • Set aside 10-15 minutes a day of one to one interaction time with your child. Stay focused on your child and follow their interests

  • Turn familiar daily routines into opportunities for you child to communicate with you

Please call us on 0208 6737930 to discuss how our Speech & Language Therapists can help your child.

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach