Being the SLP Families Will Trust (Part 2)

By Toby Stephan,
Hanen Instructor and US Representative

In “In Being the SLP Families Will Trust: Part 1”, we looked at the critical first step in early intervention that’s often over-looked, especially by new clinicians: building a relationship with the family. In Part 2, we’ll share what Hanen Certified SLPs say are the three biggest things parents should look for when choosing an SLP.

What Kind of Therapist Should Parents Choose?

As mentioned in Part 1, parents do not have to pick us to be their therapist. They can choose another therapist, or even worse yet, they can elect not to pursue intervention at all. In the paragraphs above, we were introduced to some of my thoughts and some thoughts from published resources on what it takes to be a supportive interventionist, one the family will be more motivated to work with. How can we be the therapist the family will trust? We thought it might be interesting to answer this question in a different way as well. The Hanen Centre polled a number of Hanen trained speech-language pathologists around the globe to find out what they suggest a parent should look for when choosing the right therapist. Below is a compilation of what these therapists had to say, and tips on what you can do to be the kind of therapist parents should choose. 


The third most popular answer: The therapist needs to be child-friendly.

This sounds simple enough, but we can’t take it for granted. If the child isn’t comfortable, he/she will not be able to learn. Thus, the parent should watch the therapist interacting with their child. Is she on the floor with him? Is she trying to find out what interests him or is she simply choosing what activities the child is to do? Does their child seem to be having fun? Does their child seem willing to interact with this therapist? If the parent can answer yes to these questions, then chances are their child is ready to learn.

Actions you can take to become more child-friendly: Play with as many children as you can as often as you can. Practice makes perfect. If you are looking for ideas of actions you can take while playing with children, I might suggest taking a look at The Hanen Centre resources or any of a number of other resources that provide therapy strategies.

The second most popular answer: The therapist needs to be experienced and knowledgeable.

A good therapist should know what kind of treatment is best for the child. In addition, this treatment should be based on research. The bottom line is that the therapist should appear to know what he/she is talking about. Finally, the parent should feel comfortable with the amount of experience the therapist has with children similar to theirs. In keeping with the questions theme, some reasonable questions the parents might have are:

  • How much of your caseload is made up of children like mine?
  • Can I talk to some other parents you have worked with?
  • What treatment do you recommend and why? What’s the evidence that supports these recommendations? Where can I learn more about this kind of treatment?

Actions you can take to become more experienced and knowledgeable: Unfortunately, this will just take more time on the job. In the interim, the same suggestions made above for becoming more child friendly can certainly apply here. In addition, spend any time you can reading about research. Journal articles and published resources are good places to start. Journal articles aren’t always the easiest read. I’d also suggest as a less formal starting point, taking a look at the variety of research summaries and articles that can be accessed from The Hanen Centre’s website. New website articles are always being added, so repeated visits will give access to additional ideas. One final interim suggestion would be to just take a look at the reasonable questions posted above that a parent may ask. Develop possible responses, as if it were a job interview.

The most popular answer: The therapist considers the parent to be an intervention partner.

A good therapist realizes that, because the time he/she spends with the child is limited and because parents are so important in a child’s life, parents need to be involved in the intervention and play a major role. To truly make a difference, the parent needs to be confident in what he/she is doing to help the child so that intervention goes beyond the specific treatment session and continues throughout the child’s day.

In addition, a good therapist is respectful of the parent and includes the parent in the decision-making process. A parent who feels as if he/she is always being told what to do is not truly a partner.

Actions you can take to be an intervention partner: At The Hanen Centre, we frequently suggest that parents use the strategy of Observe, Wait, and Listen when interacting with their child (OWLing). A good therapist will also adapt this strategy for use during her interactions with the parent.

This therapist...

  • Observes: takes the time to discover what is important to the parent
  • Waits: gives the parent time to talk about what is important to her/him
  • Listens: responds to what the parent says to show he/she has been heard

The Hanen Centre is a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization with a global reach. Its mission 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 who have or are at risk for language delays, those with developmental challenges such as autism, and those who are developing typically.