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A Promise Kept: More Than Words® Makes it to Barbados

As a twenty-one year old budding speech-language pathologist, Sue McMillan made a promise to herself that she was determined to keep: one day, she would find a way to share her professional skills in areas of the world where families of children with speech and language difficulties have very limited access to the help they need.

Sue met with her first chance to live up to that promise in 2004 while vacationing in Barbados. She had the opportunity to meet and work with a thirteen year-old boy with autism named Fraser, who had struggled in both public and private schools and whose parents were now trying to home school him to meet his complex needs.

Sue saw right away what a great need Barbados had for autism services. In a country of nearly 300 000 people, there were only five speech-language pathologists. Having been recently trained to lead More Than Words - the Hanen Program® for parents of children on the Autism Spectrum, Sue knew how crucial it was to help parents like Fraser’s play a key role in helping their children communicate, especially when speech pathology services were limited.

Determined to help, Sue returned to Barbados during the Christmas holiday of 2007 to offer free clinics to families of children with autism.  The following year she returned again, this time in search of funding to be able to offer a full More Than Words Program to Barbadian families.

Success! After meeting with a number of potential donors to express her firm belief in the effectiveness of the More Than Words Program, Sue secured enough funds to offer the very first Hanen Program® in Barbados.

More Than Words® Takes Off!

Attending the first More Than Words Program were seven families whose children ranged from 3½ to 15 years of age. Although the recommended age range for children attending More Than Words is 12 months to five years, Sue made an exception in this case because she knew how limited services were and how great the need was for this kind of family-focused intervention.

Sue was moved by how eager and determined the parents were to attend the More Than Words Program and learn new ways for helping their child communicate and interact with others. There were several single mothers, families who had to travel great distances, and one courageous mother who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. And yet all of these parents showed unwavering commitment to the program and to learning as much as they could to help their children.

And how their commitment paid off! Sue was thrilled to see that the families had made significant changes in the way they interacted with their children, and that the children’s communication skills had grown as a result.  As one parent explained after the program,” [my child’s] communication has greatly improved because the strategies I use help him understand more and he feels less frustrated”.

Many of the families commented that they had no idea just how much and in how many different ways their children communicated with them. One of the most important things they learned was that communication is much “more than words”!

Zwade’s Success Story

The progress made by nine-year old Zwade during Sue’s More Than Words Program shows how important it is for parents to wait for their child to communicate and help their child take turns. Small adjustments like these can make a huge difference in helping the child improve his communication and social interaction skills.

Zwade was a very active boy who loved to run, jump, swim, and play cricket. Before the More Than Words Program, Zwade’s parents would try to make him sit still at the kitchen table and concentrate on naming objects in books or on flash cards – something  Zwade had little interest in doing.

Watch the video below to see Zwade looking at a book with his parents before the More Than Words Program. Notice how Zwade jumps up and leaves the table, and how difficult it is for his parents to maintain his attention.  Notice as well that Zwade’s parents sit beside Zwade, instead of facing him, making it difficult for him to see their faces. 

 

 

 

One of the first things Zwade’s parents learned at the More Than Words Program was that building Zwade’s communication skills could be fun and less frustrating for both themselves and their son if they chose to make use of his passions and his special interests.

Sue helped Zwade’s parents choose cricket (Zwade’s favourite activity) as the perfect setting for helping Zwade learn. Sue knew that this would help to motivate Zwade to have more positive social interactions, and it would also help to motivate Zwade’s dad, since both he and his son would be having fun.

Before the game, two goals were set for Zwade:

  1. Enjoy an interaction with Dad. Sue knew that getting Zwade to enjoy playing with his father would be the first step. If Zwade could have fun interacting with Dad, he would be more motivated to use language that would keep the interaction going.
  2. Make a request using a word (”bowl”) and combine this word with eye gaze.

To encourage Zwade to do these things, his father used two important strategies he had learned during the program:

  1. Be face to face. Simply changing Dad’s physical position and making sure that he and Zwade were able to see each other’s faces would help Zwade pay attention to Dad.
  2. Give a Reason to Communicate and Wait. The cricket game had built-in reasons for Zwade to communicate – i.e., he needed Dad to throw the ball in order to hit it with the bat. And if Dad practiced waiting instead of talking a lot and taking control, Zwade would have several opportunities to take control the game himself, and this would be good for building his self-esteem.

Watch the video below to see the improvement in Zwade’s communication when he and his father play cricket together.

 

 


Since Zwade is having such a good time, there is no need for Dad to give directions or tell him what to do. See how Zwade’s father makes sure to wait and to say very little so that Zwade successfully takes turns by hitting the ball and asking Dad to throw the ball. With Dad and Zwade face to face, Zwade also looks at Dad every time he asks Zwade to throw the ball. And when Dad asks him to, Zwade even throws the ball back to him.

Following her successful More Than Words Program, Sue returned home secure in the knowledge that she had made the right decision to push for More than Words in Barbados. The smiles and gratitude of the program participants told her that she had made a significant difference in their lives and in the lives of their children with autism.

Sue is currently leading her third More than Words Program in Barbados, and is engaged in fundraising efforts in the hopes of offering a fourth later this year.
 

One Year Later...

Find out what Zwade’s Dad had to say about his son’s progress 14 months after completing the More Than Words Program.
 

For more than 35 years, The Hanen Centre has taken a leading role in the development of programs and resources to help parents and professionals help young children learn to communicate to the fullest of their potential.

To help parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Hanen created the evidence-based
More Than Words Program, as well as a More Than Words parent guidebook and DVD. The program and resources teach parents practical strategies for using everyday routines and play to foster the social communication skills of their child.

Learn more about the More Than Words Program.


Click on the links below to learn more about how Hanen can help you help children communicate: