Reading with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be invaluable time spent together. The activity helps the child’s learning and social skills, language development, and listening skills. It can also be a fun way to better connect, while helping your child to acquire a love of books.
Remembering and applying simple tips will ensure that you’re making the most of this time with your child, and that he or she is getting the most benefit out of it. Include the following ideas during your reading time:
1. Ease into it.
Because children with ASD often have a very short attention span, start by reading for short periods of time, pointing out and naming objects as you progress through a book. Be sure to build up reading time as you go; your child will start looking forward to the activity as a time of both fun and learning.
2. Make it part of the routine.
If your child thrives from routine each day, try reading a favorite book as he or she goes from one task to another. For example, this usual activity can set the stage for naptime or bedtime. Find a quiet place with no distractions.
3. Read aloud.
Each time you read to your child, you are helping his or her brain to develop. Reading aloud allows your child to hear your voice and listen to spoken words, prompting questions. It’s essentially planting the seed to make reading a permanent part of life.
4. Read with expression.
Create different voices for different characters, and emphasize rhymes and consonant patterns. Use your voice to stress new and interesting words, and even share how you feel about a particular word. Continue to use the new word throughout the day to build and support your child’s growing vocabulary.
5. Engage your child.
Make comments and ask questions as you read. Direct your child’s attention to the pictures, the facial expressions of the characters, and make predictions. Make comments and ask open-ended questions, which help to build thinking and conversational skills.
6. Consider repetition.
Read the same story again and again. This will help your child to fully grasp language. Also, books that have a lot of repetitive phrases allow children to memorize some of the text and “read” the pages the next time.
7. Incorporate sound effects.
Books that have buttons your child can press for sounds makes reading more interactive and memorable. Audio cues can aid in retention so that your child takes in what is going on and holds onto it long after reading time is over.
8. Subject matter matters.
Just like all of us, your child will be more involved with a book that covers a topic of interest. Animals, sports, trains, etc. – whatever your child may be into, books of that subject matter will ignite and maintain his or her love of reading.
9. Relate the story.
Talk about the story to your child. Relate it to his or her personal experiences, or to your own. Also, make a range of books available for your child and take turns picking which one you’ll read first. This helps create flexibility and the beginnings of learning to wait your turn, which is so important in school and in life. You can choose books for different purposes, from rhyme patterns to problem solving skills.
10. Stay close.
Reading time can also serve as emotional bonding time. Share a special blanket or even build a reading fort to share in the special activity. In this way, the enjoyment of reading becomes connected to caring and love.
As a parent, getting a child with ASD to become interested in reading can at first be challenging and frustrating, but one of the best tips you can take into consideration is to just keep trying. Reading can become an activity that both you and your child will look forward to each day, and the noticeable benefits will only further motivate the effort.
Autism Speaks offers a vast list of titles for different age levels, interests, and involvement. Access the complete list here: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-library/books.