Reading with your child is a great way to spend time together. Storytelling also helps promote language, literacy, emotional understanding and brain development.
Autistic children often have difficulty learning in traditional ways because they don’t process information the same way as other children. You could say they’re wired differently.
Learning to read can be a challenge but finding the right teaching approach can make all the difference.
1. Find stories they can relate to
Because understanding emotions, socialising and making friends are common challenges for children with autism, reading about autistic characters can be particularly engaging.
Autistic kids can also find it tricky to process abstract ideas, so books with autistic characters in commonplace situations provide concrete examples your child can connect with.
The Everyday Autism Series is a collection of storybooks written by Monique Cain, a mother of two children living with ASD. The series follows Madi as she courageously navigates new experiences like starting kinder and going to the supermarket.
There are four books in the series with more to come. You can buy the whole set online at www.theeverydayautismseries.com.au.
2. Work with your child’s strengths
Kids learn in different ways - some are better at remembering things they've seen, some retain things they've heard, while others recall things they've experienced.
Research has shown that children who are supported to learn in ways that complement their learning style can pick up new concepts more quickly and may do better at school.
If you have a visual child, pick books with interesting illustrations. Sit together and talk about what they can see and how the pictures relate to the text.
For an auditory learner start a discussion about the story or try a book and tape; they can follow the text while listening to an exciting narrator.
Kinaesthetic learners are doers, help them act out the story or encourage them to trace the letters and words.
3. Bite-sized lessons
It can be hard for kids to concentrate for long periods of time. Break down concepts into basic steps. Teach one new idea at a time. When it’s time to move on make the next step a logical one.
Reward your child’s achievements, but also reward effort and enthusiasm. Regular encouragement combined with short lessons can be really effective.
4. Use their special interests
Special interest can be a source of joy for kids on the spectrum. They’re also a fantastic way capture your child's imagination and sustain their attention.
Make literacy a game; use their favourite topics, toys, books and activities to teach concepts such as letters, numbers and colours.
Find special rewards that means something to you child and will motivate them to have a go. It might be a sticker, small toy or experience; the possibilities are endless.
5. Regulate sensory stimuli
Many children with autism suffer from sensory processing disorder, which affects their ability to filter peripheral sensory information and can trigger repetitive behaviours, such as flapping, rocking, and spinning. This makes it difficult for kids to concentrate.
Try to understand whether your child is dealing with over-stimulation, under-stimulation or both. An occupational therapist can suggest tools, such as weighted vests, pencil grips, chewlry, gravity chairs and other products to help your child focus on learning.
Take regular breaks, so your child can get the sensory stimulation they need for a few minutes before getting back to work.
6. Just keep swimming
Don’t be discouraged. Every kid on the spectrum is unique and has their own challenges and strengths to work with.
Seek help from professionals, friends, family and/or support groups when you need it but just remember you are a good parent and your love, dedication and encouragement is the best learning aide any kid can have.