Interview with a Mom who attended Hanen’s Target Word™ Program

Note: Target Word™ is a Hanen Program® developed specifically for parents of children who are Late Talkers (that is, children who have good comprehension, motor and learning skills, but who are using fewer words than other children their age). Target Word shows parents how they can help their child use words and build his expressive vocabulary during everyday routines and activities.

For more information on the Target Word Program, click here.

The Hanen Centre (THC): When did you begin to worry about your daughter Emma’s speech?

Rebecca: I would say she was probably around 15 months old. I noticed she wasn’t saying the number of words expected for her age, as outlined in the little Early Words pamphlets that we give out here at work. It was only her expressive [spoken] language. I knew her receptive language [her understanding] was okay because she was meeting those targets.

THC: Did you receive any advice from friends and family? What did they say?

Rebecca: Many of my family members told me not to worry because my husband had a speech delay when he was younger and I was a late talker as well. They were just saying that it’s genetic and that I didn’t really have to worry about it. I guess deep down I knew [that I should do something] because that’s what I do for a living. Also, I knew that it wouldn’t hurt to make sure Emma was on the right track, but I made excuses for it. I guess I’m partly to blame for not calling earlier than I did.

It never hurts to call. If everything is on track, then you know you don’t have to worry about it. But if there is an issue or a problem, it’s nice to be on the wait list a little earlier because there is such a long wait list for services.

THC: What were you doing before you took the Target Word program to help Emma learn to talk?

Rebecca: We were mostly labelling objects: if she pointed to something, we would label it. It was the typical things you do with a toddler, really – we weren’t doing anything extreme with her. We would also try to get her to imitate sounds.

THC: I understand you work as a resource teacher. Did that help you with Emma?

Rebecca: It did, because it made me aware of where Emma should be in terms of development. I do that every day, so I can basically do it in my sleep. We use the Brigance [early childhood screening tool] here at my agency, so I know it inside and out, but at the same time, it’s not really that helpful because you tend to over-analyze everything. Sometimes with Emma I would be more of a resource teacher than a parent, so I would do the Brigance on her to make sure she was on track instead of just being laid back and playing with her. It does help that I have that background knowledge of child development, so I knew roughly that she was okay; she just wasn’t saying the words that she should have been saying. 

THC: How did you hear about the Target Word program?

Rebecca: I had heard about Hanen before. Many of my coworkers have taken Learning Language and Loving It™ with the centres that they service. I had never heard about Target Word until we did our initial visit with Early Words. I can’t remember the name of the speech-language pathologist who we went to for our initial assessment. At that appointment, she said that Emma was okay, but that she was probably a late talker, so she recommended the Target Word program for us at that time.

THC: When you started the Target Word Program, how did you feel about the fact that you were being trained, as opposed to your child?

Rebecca: At first, I was a little hesitant because at work, I don’t really train the teacher to do it – we work directly with the kids. I was a little unsure about how me being trained would benefit Emma, because she was the one not talking. But once we started the program, it made sense for me to change my approach to how I interacted with Emma and how I played with her, and that’s when we started noticing differences at home.

You only have five sessions so I thought, “Okay, in five sessions, this is going to get her to talk?” But it really does work! Once we realized how the program is organized into different sections and had time to go home and practice changing our approach, we started noticing changes at home with Emma.

THC: What did you think of the Target Word Program overall?

Rebecca: I loved it. I honestly wished I had called Early Words sooner than I did. I think Emma was 18 months before I called, but I knew at 15 months that there was a problem. I had made excuses for her. I really wish I had called at 15 months to get her on the wait list earlier and to do the program a lot sooner, but we had such a great time doing it and Cindy, the Hanen speech-language pathologist, was amazing.

THC: When you started to use the Target Word strategies with Emma, did anything about her response surprise you?

Rebecca: She actually started to respond to us right away, as we changed: she stayed longer at activities, she was more interested in what we were doing with her because we were doing what she wanted to do, not what mommy and daddy wanted to do. She goes to daycare two days a week, as was recommended by Early Words, and daycare also started to see an improvement after we had taken the program. She wasn’t as shy anymore at school, which is nice to hear when you go pick up your daughter. She responded right away. I was quite surprised, actually.

THC: Tell me about the strategies that have stayed with you from the program. Are there any in particular that you find yourself using repeatedly?

Rebecca: We always try to remember to follow her lead, because that was one of the biggest things for both my husband and I to make sure that we practiced every day with her. For example, the other night, we were cooking in her little play kitchen and I went back to the old habit of, “Let’s play restaurant!” and she had no interest in doing that at all. We always try to remember to follow her lead and, to this day, we continue to use that strategy.

THC: How did you find the process of integrating Target Word strategies into your everyday interactions at home? Was it hard to use all of them? What helped you remember to use them?

Rebecca: It was definitely hard to use all of them at first, because it seemed so overwhelming. When you’re in the program, you take the stuff you learn and practice it at home, but at the same time you also have to change your approach. If you were used to doing something a certain way, you have to change. Before, when she was playing, we would always narrate: “Oh, you’re moving the car. The car’s going up, the car’s doing down.” You have to step back from doing that, which was a big thing for us. We found it hard to adapt our approach to the approaches that Cindy wanted us to use, but it was nice having the Target Word workbook to bring home because it would highlight a few key points. We always had homework pages to fill in, too. It helped us to remember and to reinforce what our task was.

THC: Can you describe your husband’s experience of the program?

Rebecca: I think he really liked it. At first, it was hard for him to change his approach to interacting with Emma. I know that remembering to follow her lead was a tough one (as it was for me too) because we were so used to leading her to do things that we wanted to do. Overall, he really did enjoy it and he learned a lot from the program.

THC: How is Emma doing now?

Rebecca: She is doing very well: she won’t stop talking! I said to Cindy at the last meeting that we had before the program ended, “[First] you worry because she’s not talking enough, and now she won’t stop talking!” We are really pleased with how great she’s doing right now.

THC: What would you tell other parents about the Target Word program?

Rebecca: If you have any type of concern, call. Even if it amounts to nothing, at least you know that you called and that there is nothing to worry about. I really see how it benefitted Emma – and not only Emma, but our family as well. Now we know how to better interact with her and we are seeing a big difference in her personality since taking the program. She’s more outgoing and not as shy around other kids. We really learned a lot from it and we really had a lot of fun with it as well.

THC: So it’s more than just speech?

Rebecca: For Emma it was. She’s definitely more outgoing with other kids now and not as shy. She’s able to get right in there and talk to them. When they have show and share [at her daycare], now she’s talking. We saw a big difference, not only in her speech, but in other areas as well.