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Communication Development in Children with Autism

The ability to communicate is one of the most important human skills, and it’s also one that most of us take for granted. Because we’re able to communicate, we can connect with others and forge relationships. We can make our wants known, share our ideas and let other people know how we feel.

Communication begins long before we learn to talk. In the first few months of life, babies show their interest in communicating by listening intently to the sound of the human voice, looking at people's faces when they talk, and then engaging in back-and-forth babbling games with their parents. These exchanges of sounds and smiles between an infant and his caregiver are the baby's first conversations, even though he has never uttered a word. Around the first year of life, infants use their first words and then, once they have many single words, they use little two-word sentences.

How Does Communication Develop in Children with Autism?

For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, communication development happens differently and more slowly. Because of the sensory challenges associated with the disorder, children with autism might seem more interested in environmental sounds, like the whirring of a fan or vaccuum, than in the sound of people talking. They seem distracted or even seem not to hear what people say. First words are often delayed and, when some children do start talking, their first words are unusual (like numbers) or they echo others.

Fortunately, research has continually shown that early intervention can make a huge difference in improving the communication skills of children on the autism spectrum. 

In particular, the research shows that when parents interact with their children in ways that motivate, encourage and support their child’s communication, they can make a significant difference to their child’s social and communication development. It’s The Hanen Centre’s mission to show parents how they can do this.  

The Hanen Approach to Building Communication Skills in Children with Autism

Hanen developed a program that enables parents to take charge of their child’s early learning to help him become the best communicator that he can be.

Since 1975, The Hanen Centre has been committed to helping parents, caregivers, early childhood educators and speech-language pathologists promote the best possible communication skills in young children.

To meet the specific needs of children on the autism spectrum, Hanen developed a specialized approach based on the following three principles:

  1. The pivotal role of parents and caregivers – Recognizing the family as the most important element in a child’s life means that parents can and should play a primary role in their child’s speech therapy intervention.
  2. The importance of starting early – Children who receive autism speech therapy intervention early in their lives will have the best results.
  3. The power of the “everyday” – Children learn to communicate not by being “taught”, but by participating in everyday conversations and activities with their parents and other important adults who know how to build communication during these activities.

Drawing on the most current research in early language intervention for children on the autism spectrum, Hanen developed a program that enables parents to take charge of their child’s early learning to help him become the best communicator that he can be.

More Than Words® – Hanen’s Program For Parents of Children With Autism

More Than Words® is a Hanen Program® designed specifically for parents of children on the autism spectrum to show them how they can make the most of their child’s unique strengths and preferences to build communication skills during everyday routines and activities. As a result, children receive the extra support they need throughout each day − not just while attending therapy sessions. 

From Research to Real Life: How More Than Words® Came To Be

More Than Words helps parents create endless opportunities to connect with their child and promote improved social and communication skills.

Like all Hanen Programs®, More Than Words began with extensive research. Studies showed that the use of specific interaction strategies (for example, building on the ways a child already communicates and following the child's lead) could do wonders to encourage a child to communicate and to support the development of new skills.

So Hanen’s autism experts set to work, simplifying the research and “translating” it into practical communication strategies that parents can easily use with their children during everyday routines and activities. Research showed, for example, that children with autism learn and communicate best when they know what to expect. So More Than Words gives parents concrete advice for adding this kind of structure to everyday activities.

The power of More Than Words lies in the ‘everyday’. Whether it’s bath time, bedtime or playtime, the More Than Words program, guidebook and DVD can help parents create endless opportunities to connect with their child and promote improved social and communication skills.

How the More Than Words® Guidebook and DVD Can Help

Based on the same research as the program, the More Than Words guidebook and companion DVD provide parents with simple strategies they can use during everyday routines and activities to help their child interact more meaningfully with others and experience less frustration.

More Than Words helps parents support their child in reaching the following three goals:

  • Improved social skills
  • The ability to engage in back-and-forth interactions
  • Improved understanding of language


Expanding More Than Words to Help More Families

To make More Than Words widely available, The Hanen Centre developed a professional development workshop for speech-language pathologists around the world to show them how to use More Than Words in their everyday work with families. There are currently thousands of More Than Words-Certified speech-language pathologists around the world.

Click on the links below to find out more about how More Than Words can help.