I remember when my wife and I found out our son was autistic. We went through what most parents who discover this disorder go through…guilt (that somehow it was our fault), fear (that he would not be able to cope) and well…mostly just worry. We managed to get help from EIPIC (Early Intervention Program for Infants and Children), and thankfully he is much better today.
My wife works from home, which is another big boon. She practices reading with our son, while I just read him bedtime stories. She did quite a bit of research on helping our son adapt and cope, especially with reading. I’ll be sharing five useful tips you can put into practice at home.
- Pick books that interest them Autistic children are usually fixated on something, from trains, to maps, to even anything with grills (kid you not). Thankfully, my son is obsessed with trains, especially our MRT trains. Pick books that feature their fixations, if possible. Also, most autistic children are visual learners. They remember words better if it’s attached to a picture, so they can form a picture in their mind representing the word or words.
- Pick books with common sight words and rhyming words
Common sight words are very important to new readers. Learning them, being able to recognize them and reading them out gives the children a confidence boost. Not to mention it will be pre-requisite when they get into Primary 1 (if you intend to let yours go mainstream like we do). Rhymes and rhyming words provide cadence, rhythm and fun! Some kids respond better when the story is read in a sing-song manner to them.
- Regulate sensory input
Create a quiet, peaceful and comfortable reading space at home. Autistic children react differently to loud sounds, flashing lights and discomfort. They find it tougher to filter out extraneous sensory information. These could be things like other kids playing loudly, a dog barking, to the flickering TV screen. This over or under-sensitivity can make it very difficult for autistic children to focus on tasks, including reading.
Some children learn better when they are moving. Reading on a patio swing, or a rocking chair, can often help them focus better.
- Read interactively
When I read to my son, I like to act out the story, sometimes with just my voice, sometimes with props and actions. Get your kids to imitate what the story characters are doing. Give them simple props to act out scenes from the book.
Get them to help turn the page at the right moment, or point to words as you read. All these activities help engage them as readers, without relying on their proficiency as a reader.
- Every child is different
Autism is a spectrum of disorders, and every child diagnosed learns in their own unique way. What works for one may not work for another. What you should always try to do, however, is to make use of and focus on the child’s strengths, and eliminate or overcome the child’s challenges as much as possible. Try different methods, keep a record, and once you’ve found a working combination, fine tune it. Make it fun, interactive and progressive. It will take time and patience, and lots of love, but you will see a difference, like I have in my son.