The rising awareness about neurodiversity is a positive, growing trend in recent years. For parents, finding the best practice to read to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be demanding. Each child’s needs are unique, which means parents will face varying challenges dependant on the child’s needs on the autism spectrum.
In The Book have been lucky enough to collaborate with industry leading experts to inform parents about how to begin reading to children with autism, and the positive steps they can take regarding their child’s development of literacy skills.
Kimberly Ha (Organisation for Autism Research)
Kimberly Ha, the Research and Programs Director at the Organisation for Autism Research (OAR) shares incredible insight toward the best practice to take to help your child’s overall approach to learning:
Provide Children with Materials That Capture Their Attention
Individuals with ASD exhibit vastly different symptoms from one another. Therefore, a child may have level 1 autism and be highly verbal; another may be non-verbal and require AAC devices to communicate with others.
In general, however, those with autism may be hyper-focused on small insignificant details rather than the main concept or theme of a story. They also focus more on objects and things rather than people and social cues.
They can show great interest in a certain subject at any one time, such as dinosaurs, unicorns or characters on television shows. Choose books which feature these subjects in the content. Try providing children with material that they can connect with that has captured their attention. Any practice with reading is helpful even if it means your child reads several books on the same topic.
Increased Interaction and Patience
Since those with ASD present with social deficits, it is helpful for parents to have increased interaction. Pointing and sharing of experiences is important.
People with autism struggle with figurative language — they will read a sentence and interpret it quite literally as raining cats and dogs. If there is dialogue or social interaction in the story, they may not immediately grasp it. If there are facial expressions in the images, they may not immediately understand it. So, it would be helpful for the person helping them read to ask probing questions about the social aspects of the story.
Lynette Dare (Co-Founder of Flossy and Jim)
In The Book has been thrilled to release a range of books designed specially to help children to develop their social skills.
Here, co-founder of Flossy and Jim, Lynette Dare, shares her best advice below to put in to practice when teaching a child with autism to read.
The books were originally designed by Dare for her autistic son. Using the stories, Lynette encouraged her son to visit new places, make friends and try new food! Read Lynette’s top tips below:
Establish Parent/Child Intimacy
It’s never too early to start reading with your child. Reading together can become a good way to connect with your child. The parent/child intimacy helps your child open up to learning at home and/or in the classroom, preparing them for social interaction. Children with ASD benefit from reading and repetition to reinforce their understanding and aid their reading readiness and comprehension.
Children with autism spectrum disorder can be oversensitive or under sensitive to noise, light, clothing or temperature. It’s helpful to make sure the environment in which you are reading is calm, quiet and not too bright. Sometimes a weighted blanket might be helpful to help your child feel relaxed whilst enjoying their book. If your child needs to move around whilst you read to them, allow them to do so.
Many children with autism like routine reading because repeating words and phrases helps reinforce different concepts and makes the stories easier for the child to comprehend. Try reading their favourite book at the same time each day, maybe before bed each evening. (This can also help with their bedtime routine and getting them to go to bed relaxed.)
Gradually Increase Reading Time
Teaching reading to autistic children takes time. To begin with, try reading aloud for short periods of time, pointing and naming objects as you read. Then build up the time you and your child read together. Speak slowly and clearly, using your child’s name frequently throughout to keep their attention and increase their attention span.
Use Expressions to Help Them Understand Emotions
When reading the book together, it’s helpful to discuss the expressions on the characters’ faces. This can help your child recognise different emotions which can be quite difficult for them to process in everyday environments. As your child is interested in the story, understanding the expressions and emotions the character feels is an easier concept for the child to grasp.
Give Constant Praise
Praise your child for spending their time reading. Give them positive comments and small rewards such as setting up a sticker reward chart or even a personalised children’s book. This can really help build a young child’s self-esteem, confidence and relationship with books. They’ll associate reading with the feeling of doing something they enjoy and can achieve.