People with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can face several challenges, especially when it comes to learning. However, the difficulty is often not in the learning itself, but in the way it happens – the process of learning. During childhood, making reading a routine activity that’s also fun is especially important for teaching children with autism how to read.
Autism and the challenges of reading
It is common for children with autism to have difficulties learning in traditional ways. This is simply because their brains process information differently than that of neurotypical children.
Some children with ASD can pay attention for a limited time when listening to someone tell a story or learning to read by themselves. On the other hand, they may start reading very early and show great interest in certain subjects, wanting to read everything they can about the topic.
It is also common for these children to be visual thinkers, which means they think through images rather than words. Other autistic children learn better through sound, or even through tactile stimuli.
Autism can also cause difficulty in assimilating and memorizing sequences, such as long phrases, numbers, or multi-step instructions. This can be a challenge for understanding texts.
Regardless of what characteristics the child has, it’s possible to use different techniques to help them learn with efficiency. Simple multisensory stimuli, step-by-step teaching, and establishing connections with the child’s daily activities all help to involve the child in the learning process actively and thus develop reading skills.
Tips for teaching children with autism to read
Here are 6 tips to help literacy and the development of reading skills for children with autism:
1 – Associate reading with their daily routine
Children with ASD usually need to have a daily routine that ensures predictability in their lives. For them, it is important to know what will happen, what the activities of the day will be, and especially if there will be something different – they like structure. This anticipation of events helps the autistic child to feel safe because that way, they understand their goals and get to know what other people expect of them at each moment.
Reading about usual activities can help the child to interpret the text and associate it with their daily lives. If your son or daughter likes routine in their day, reading can help them to better understand each moment and also move from one task to another.
For example, reading a book before going to sleep can help your child understand that it’s time to rest. There are children’s books with stories that talk about everyday moments, such as bedtime, bath time, and feeding time. This type of theme helps the little one to connect with the story, since routine is something they recognize. Thus, it also helps the child to understand the importance of these daily rituals and to know how they should behave in each of them.
2 – Present topics that the child is interested in
It’s common for autistic children to show so-called restricted interest – that is, they like a particular subject so much that they focus only on it. They love to read, know more, and talk about it, becoming practically experts. The restricted interest can be for a subject (like dinosaurs), an action (like aligning objects), an object (favorite toy), or even a broader topic (like math).
It’s possible to take advantage of the child’s limited interest to encourage reading. Look for books that involve this theme. If the little one likes trains a lot, how about reading with them a book that talks all about trains? They may start with a shorter children’s book, with short phrases and related images, but chances are the child will not want to stop there, asking for a new book to continue learning.
3 – Look for elements they can identify with
Some children with ASD have difficulty dealing with new contexts and the unknown. This is why it’s important to look for stories that they’re comfortable with and, even better, identify with. It’s good when books have characters of their age and show family members they are familiar with, places they have already visited, or activities they practice.
Personalized books have a special appeal for readers with autism. When the child creates their character to be the protagonist and recognizes themselves in the book, this generates identification and brings them closer to the situations experienced in the story. The result is that kids will want to read the book again and again, thus encouraging the habit of reading and enhancing their learning.
4 – Teach one new concept at a time
Whether at school or home, children with ASD find it easier to learn a concept when it starts with basic steps and gradually increases in complexity in a logical order.
When teaching children with autism how to read, start with the phonetic alphabet – that is, the sound of each letter. Teach them using examples of words that the child uses a lot, such as F for “father”. Always relate to objects and elements of their daily life. They will then start to form syllables, and for this phase, several educational games can help in the learning process. Only later will they become aware of the formation of words and phrases.
In each explanation, it’s important to keep direct and objective instructions, remembering that people with autism have difficulty with abstract concepts. It is always good to follow a logic – to review what the child already knows in order to present a single new concept, and then to practice it.
The activity or reading time should also be adjusted gradually. Try to read for a few minutes at a time in the beginning. Then, gradually increase their reading time when your child’s attention span begins to improve.
5 – Stimulate different senses
Each person learns best in a different way, and this is no different for children with autism. Therefore, it is important to seek multisensory stimuli, because it may be that the little one learns more using sight, sound, or even touch.
Children who learn visually like to see what they are reading or learning, so it’s essential that the images in the book match what is written in it. In this way, associations are created between text and visual resources, favoring language development.
Children who learn by hearing prefer to listen to oral instructions and then discuss what they’ve learned to solidify the material. When reading, a good idea is to buy an audiobook for the child to hear while accompanying the written text, so that they can decode the words as they go through the material.
“Hands-on” children learn best by doing, and therefore absorb knowledge best when they can touch and manipulate objects. Look for books that are accompanied by other elements, or be creative and create objects yourself to personify reading! If the story takes place in a cave, how about creating a cave at home with a blanket? Build objects that appear in the story. This will make reading more fun and learning in general more fun! See some tips for playfully teaching the alphabet in this article!
Don’t forget that professional monitoring is important for better development of children with autism. Child speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychology are areas that work together to ensure that children reach their greatest potential!
6 – Protagonism of children with autism in reading
If reading already provides the development of any child, Playstories believes that personalized books have an even greater potential for children with ASD. In another article, we talk to experts about the potential for personalization for small children with autism.
Access our website to learn educational stories in which the child with autism becomes the protagonist alongside their favorite characters. Click here to create a personalized and amazing book!