Children with autism often have a difficult time learning to read. In their "black and white" world, everything makes sense. But when you learn to read you have to accept that words sound a certain way, even if it just doesn’t make sense. My son, although a teen now and an avid reader, recently said, "Silent letters in words are just ridiculous. Why would someone add a letter that isn’t needed? It makes no sense." There are also other confusing rules, such as adding an "e" to the end of the word makes a previous letter sound different or "ph" sounds like "f." Once you get past the sight words and the phonics, you must move on to reading comprehension, another area that is frequently difficult for those with autism.
Despite the difficulties, many children with autism can and do learn to read. The following tips are full of ideas to make teaching your child reading a little easier.
Carve out time in your daily schedule for reading. Because children with autism like routines, try to make it at the same time everyday. Right before bedtime is a good time for reading.
Look for books that incorporate your child’s interests. Your child will be more interested in reading if the book includes topics he is interested in. Don’t be afraid to read the same book over and over or stay on the same topic for months. For example, if your child is fascinated with planets, you might read different books on planets for months. You can also use this as a way to jump to similar topics, such as stars, space or rockets.
Make reading fun and enjoyable. Use this time for cuddling, talking about different topics and connecting with one another. The more your child connects reading to pleasant experiences, the more he will want to read.
Involve your child’s support team. Let therapists, teachers and other caregivers know you are teaching your child to read and keep them apprised of your progress so they can reinforce reading skills during their time with your child.
If your child has a short attention span, start out with short books or read only a few pages at a time. Pushing them past their attention span will only create frustration. You might find your child’s attention is only a few minutes some days and longer other days. Let this guide you on how long you read.
Take trips to the library. Join in library events, such as movies or reading circles as your child is capable.
Encourage your child to ask questions while you are reading. If he is curious about the characters or what is happening in the book, stop and explain.
Ask questions while you are reading to encourage your child to see past the words, such as discussing what is going on in the pictures, what he thinks will happen next or what he thinks the characters are feeling. These types of questions aid in developing reading comprehension.
Look for books that have pictures of children’s faces and different expressions. Talking about how the characters feel helps your child distinguish different emotions.
For early readers, look for books that include sensory experiences, such as buttons to push, doors to open or different textures to feel.
Use different tones of voice when reading. Try to incorporate tones that mimic the emotions of the characters. Watch for your child’s reaction to the different tones and be aware of any sensitivities to different sounds.
Make a list of the "sight" words you come across when reading. Sight words are those that don’t follow any phonetic rules and must be memorized. Make cards with the words or place on the refrigerator for your child to see and say on a daily basis.
Match words from the story with household objects. For example, if the story has a table or chair, use index cards to write the word and attach it to the object. This helps your child recognize the word and connect it to the object.
Create a picture book with words commonly seen in books. In addition to connecting words to household objects, you can use a binder and create a "word" book that is customized to the books you are reading.
Slowly introduce phonics. Some children with autism will learn to read by memorizing every word without learning to sound words out. Start by introducing one phonic rule at a time and give your child time to practice it before adding a new rule.
Stop after each page and talk about what happened on that page to develop reading comprehension skills. Have your child give you a summary or ask questions to help him explain what happened in the story.
Spend time connecting pronouns to the person or object they represent. Children with autism often have trouble with this concept. When you come across pronouns, such as "it," "he," "she," or "they" take the time to connect it back to the noun it represents.
Use visual cues to go along with the story. Many children with autism are visual learners. Use supplemental word books and objects to describe words and understand concepts.
Reading time should be a time you and your child enjoy, have fun and connect with one another. Keep calm and allow your child to learn at his own pace. When you get frustrated, your child can feel it and will become frustrated as well. If you feel you are getting upset, end reading time for the day and start again tomorrow. With patience and teamwork, your child can learn to read.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.