Social Communication Development in Children with High-Functioning Autism

There’s much more to successful communication than the ability to use words. Body language, facial expressions, eye gaze, tone of voice – these non-verbal cues can often tell us more about what people think and feel than the words they use. To be successful communicators, we need to know how to interpret and respond to these cues, and how to use them ourselves.

Most children begin paying attention to non-verbal cues as infants when they search their parents’ faces for support and acknowledgement. But for children with high-functioning autism, the ability to “tune in” to the thoughts and feelings of others often does not develop in the same way or at the same pace as other children.

Difficulty empathizing and seeing other points of view can make having two-sided conversations a huge challenge for these children. Because they often do not know what to say or do in social situations, children with high-functioning autism can find it extremely difficult to make friends and to forge meaningful relationships with others.

But this doesn’t mean that children with high-functioning autism cannot experience significant improvement in developing their social communication skills. Research shows that with extra help and support from the important adults in a child’s life, children with social communication difficulties can learn many important skills that will make connecting with others and making friends much easier.

The Hanen Centre is committed to supporting these important adults, including parents, caregivers, early childhood educators and speech-language pathologists, by  providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully promote the social communication skills of children with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism.

A Hanen Focus: Fostering Social Communication Skills in Children with
High-Functioning Autism

To meet the specific needs of verbal children age 3-7 with high-functioning autism or social communication difficulties, Hanen developed a specialized approach based on the following three principles:

  1. Taking others’ perspectives is key to social interaction – Children who can see another point of view and understand how others think and feel have the most success in making friends.
  2. Parents and caregivers play a pivotal role – The family is the most important element in a child’s life, and parents can and should play a primary role in their child’s intervention.
  3. Learning happens naturally – Children learn to communicate best during everyday conversations and activities with their parents and other important adults.

For a long time, most treatments for the high-functioning group of children on the autism spectrum focused on teaching them a script to follow in social situations. But by drawing on cutting-edge research that shows what helps children truly understand the thoughts and feelings of others, The Hanen Centre developed a program that empowers parents to help their child develop the social skills he’ll need to be a successful communicator and make friends with other children.

TalkAbility™ – The Hanen Program® for Parents of Verbal Children on the Autism Spectrum

TalkAbility™ is an early intervention Hanen Program® designed specifically for parents of children aged 3-7 with high-functioning autism to show them how to foster the higher-level language and social skills that are essential for the best outcomes in these children.

The TalkAbility Program shows parents how to use their child’s unique strengths and preferences to help him learn to appreciate other people’s perspectives and develop improved conversational skills during everyday routines and activities.

TalkAbility includes: 

  • a “how-to” parent  guidebook
  • a TalkAbility group program for parents, led by Hanen Certified speech-language pathologists
  • a TalkAbility training workshop for  Hanen-certified speech-language pathologists

From Research to Real Life: How TalkAbility™ Came To Be

The TalkAbility Program was born out of extensive research on what is known to facilitate the communication development of children with high-functioning autism. This research shows that children who are involved in conversations about the thoughts and feelings of others start to tune in to what other people are thinking (often referred to as having a “theory-of-mind”).  This kind of thinking is central to a child’s ability to have successful interpersonal relationships.

Studies showed that when parents use specific “tuning-in” words, such as “think”, “remember” and “wonder”, in their conversations with their children, the children start to talk in the same way.  With the right vocabulary, children not only talk differently, but they also begin to think differently. They begin to see the importance of listening to other people’s ideas and perspectives. In this way, parents can make a significant difference to their child’s overall social and communication development.

In the TalkAbility Progarm and guidebook, The Hanen Centre has transformed these complex ideas into easy-to-use strategies that parents can use with their children during everyday routines and activities to help them learn more about the social world.

To make TalkAbility widely available, The Hanen Centre developed a professional development workshop for speech-language pathologists to enable them to implement the TalkAbility approach in their clinical work with children and their families around the world.

How TalkAbility™ Helps both Parents and Professionals

With Hanen’s integrated approach to fostering the social communication skills of children with high-functioning autism, both parents and professionals benefit. Professionals obtain the tools to support and guide parents, while parents learn how to make the most of their child’s unique interests, sensory preferences and daily routines to build the child’s communication skills naturally throughout the day. In this way, parents and therapists work together to greatly increase the child’s opportunities to learn and to use new skills in a variety of contexts.

Click on the links below to find out more about how TalkAbility can help.