Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Than Words Program

If you have or know anyone with a child on the spectrum, 
I urge you to share this review with them!

I am going to put this out there BEFORE you read this post. I have not been compensated, nor was I ever asked to write this review. I decided to do so all on my own. I say this because it will seem like I’m a walking commercial for this program!

For the last few months I have been taking a weekly parenting class called the More Than Words Program. This last Tuesday was my final class in the program. For someone who rarely cries, I fought off tears as we walked out of class together one last time. What started off as a parenting class, ended with a budding sorority of sisters who are sharing and cheering each other on in this journey of motherhood, Spectrum Style.

When I was researching how to help Brady grow in the areas of communication, I looked at and considered a ton of different approaches we could take. I feel that there are so many different approaches out there or that I have attempted, but very few have had an impact as great as the More Than Words Program. But, before I get into how it has helped me, let me tell you more about the program itself.

I asked my instructor, Brigid Shamburg, to answer a few questions to better explain just exactly what the program is all about.

Brigid, can you describe the More Than Words program?
The More Than Words Program was designed specifically for parents of children ages 5 and under on the autism spectrum. Addressing the unique needs of these children, the program provides parents with the tools, strategies and support they need to help their children reach their full communication potential.
The More Than Words parent program includes:
  •  8 training sessions in small, personalized groups
  •  A Hanen Certified speech-language pathologist leading the program
  • A pre-program consultation for you and your child with your speech-language pathologist
  • Three individual visits for you and your child with your speech-language pathologist in which you are videotaped while practicing with your child. Then you and your speech-language pathologist watch the videotaped interaction to “see” what’s helping and what you can modify to help even more.

So, what can a parent hope to achieve?
More Than Words does this by empowering you to help your child reach the following three goals:
1.    Improved social skills
2.    The ability to engage in back-and-forth interactions
3.    Improved understanding of language

Here are some of the valuable things you’ll learn when you attend the More Than Words
·      How your child learns best and what motivates him to communicate
·      Why your child behaves in certain ways, and what you can do to either increase or reduce those behaviours
·      How to use your knowledge about your child to set realistic goals
·      How to make interactions with your child last longer and be more meaningful
·      Tips for using pictures and print to help your child’s understanding
·      Tips on how to talk so that your child understands you
·      Strategies for developing your child’s play skills
·      Ways to help your child make friends

What do you enjoy most about teaching the program? 
Great question! This program has reinforced for me how important parents are in helping their children communicate and function in the world.   My most joyful moments in teaching the program have occurred because of the relationships between the parent and the child (the communication attempts by the child and the increased awareness and receptiveness of the parent).  A few of the most memorable moments:  A Mom realized that the mumbling sounds produced by her son were actually the words "I love you" in a song;  When the specific concern of a mother was that her son stop hitting his brother and by the end of the program, his increase in communication, and her receptiveness, had led to less frustration, and therefore, less hitting; A Mom created the most amazing and unique book for her son and realized she did it with her own will and creativity.

Helping parents focus on the success of a child's communication leads to happier relationships, and aha - More and Better Communication!!!   I could go on and on.  I am continually learning from each parent that is involved in More Than Words.  This program has allowed me to reassess my own skills and become a better speech and language pathologist with each class I teach.          

Back to me...
So, for the better part of three months, I participated in this program. And, not only has this program helped my entire family engage and communicate with Brady in a more meaningful way, it has also provided me with an extended network of supporters who have inspired, motivated and encouraged me along this journey. Surprisingly, this program has also helped me with my 2.5 year old as well, and he is not on the spectrum!

For us, our main overarching goal was to get Brady communicating more. Most people wouldn't notice the difficulties that Brady has communicating because his speech is quite clear. But, Brady is very echolalic, copying a lot of what we say, kind of like a parrot. Additionally, Brady uses very scripted speech, which while he uses it appropriately, we are striving to get him speaking more spontaneously. For instance, Brady has memorized appropriate ways to ask for or request things. But, if you asked him an open-ended question, he may have difficulties answering right away.

The reason I believe this program made such an impact on Brady’s communication is because it gave me, his mother, the tools to bring home and work with Brady, day in and day out. What is so different about this approach is that it isn’t necessarily a therapist who comes and works with Brady on his communication (which we do, too), but it taught me real techniques that work with exactly where Brady needed help. By working with him each day, it was a very intensive approach, but none of it felt like work for Brady. We played, read books, sang and just enjoyed our time. I just went about it a little differently than I used to.

Each week we would roundtable, watch real past-program participant’s videos and then we strategized how we would take each new personal goal to task. Then, Brigid would make a home visit and videotape our task and we would immediately critique and review it. At first, these videos were a dreaded chore. I don't know about you, but I loath having to watch myself on film, let alone having to do something I'm going to have to critique. Yet, while it stinks to have to watch yourself on film, it is very helpful to see where you could have done things differently or see where you were making great progress.

My fellow classmate, Karla, also found the class incredibly helpful. She answered a few questions about her experience and I thought it would be beneficial to share her experience as well.

What did you expect going into the program?
Initially, going into this class I expected to learn more on how I could help my child develop his speech.

What did you find the most helpful thing about the program?
The most helpful thing was looking at all the video examples of other kids with similar challenges. I was able to see similar patterns and behaviors my son had and see how parents used different approaches to develop more meaningful speech and non-verbal communication.

What surprised you the most about participating in the program?
My son suddenly had an explosion in speech and I honestly believe it has a lot to do with all the new techniques I learned and applied during this program.

Would you recommend the program to others?
I would definitely recommend this program because it just plain changes the way one talks to their child. It has helped me understand what I need to do to get my son engaged and learning!!! Finally, I would highly recommend Brigid because she is well versed, supportive and above all she keeps it fun and extremely interesting.

Back to me again...We have noticed that Brady has begun to speak more spontaneously, answering more questions without prompting and without echoing what we are saying to him. And, what is even more amazing, we have noticed a significant decrease in Brady's OCD behaviors and I credit a lot of that with helping him increase his communication with us. I really do believe that has helped decrease his anxiety, which in turn decreased his behaviors! 

So, in closing, if you have a child on the spectrum, and I stress ANYWHERE on the spectrum, please look into this course. It's not just for people with kids that aren't speaking. Trust me, mine speaks and rarely shuts up! All kidding aside, the program has been such a positive experience for us and we have noticed huge improvement, not only in how Brady communicates, but how we communicate with him. We have noticed that we have more meaningful interactions with each other, which in itself, is more than we ever expected from the program. But, what is even better is we now have a long list of techniques and approaches to help us along the long road ahead.

And, just as the program’s name says, communication is so much more than words. This was the biggest lesson I have learned from participating in this program. What we were always focused on was getting him to talk more, speak better or look us in the eye. What we were missing was that he was always communicating with us. Whether it be by body language, gestures and his behaviors, he was ALWAYS communicating. We just didn’t have the key to crack his code. But, now, I feel like we do. What we have learned to do is stop focusing on getting him to do what WE want to do for fun and follow his lead and have fun, the BRADY way. And, I will attest, this is when the magic happened. The program is not a cure, it will not make all of their difficulties disappear. What the program DOES do is help YOU help THEM communicate!

On the last day, we watched snippets from the first video taping when we just began the class. Then after, we got to watch the clips from our last video taping session. And, what a significant moment to see how much growth each of our kids made. And, you know what? It was phenomenal to see the changes in the parents. The joy and pride on our faces and the change in our general demeanor was amazing. But, the best was the increased engagement you saw with our kiddos. It was just the best thing to witness!

So, AGAIN, if you are looking to make a great investment of your time where you will see positive results, please consider looking for a More Than Words Program in your area. It was one of the best choices we made for Brady!

If you are in the San Diego County area, Brigid Shamburg is a wonderful resource to consider. You can contact her at And, look into Regional Center funding!

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