As an author, as well as an autism and literacy advocate, I've always felt reading is very important for those with and without disabilities. My husband and I are both writers, and literacy has played a huge role in shaping our lives.
Around the time of our son Wills' autism diagnosis, a neuropsychologist told us that Wills would never be able to read. We were devastated. But, with determination, the right motivation, and, most importantly, an outstanding team, today our son is literate!
There were many things that helped Wills persevere, but none was more important than introducing an educational therapist into his daily routine. This incredible teacher convinced Wills and me that he was a smart and very good learner — he just took in information a little differently than his classmates.
Figuring out how to present learning material to Wills so that he could process it was the key to his beginning to understand letters, numbers, scanning a sentence, and comprehending what he was seeing and hearing.
It wasn't always easy, but we overcame the adversity. Wills, now 16, is in a mainstream high school and reading books from the summer reading list just like his typical classmates.
The following are nine tips that can help a child with autism learn to read, too:
1: Keep believing.
It may be hard, frustrating, and overwhelming at times, but keep believing! If someone tells me that Wills can't do something, I take it as my cue to "question authority." Children are endless miracles!
2: Involve the team.
If you have a support team of educators and therapists, keep them in the loop, and work together to help your child read! They may also be able to shine new light on how reading can help with transitions, social skills, and more.
3: Include reading in the routine.
Some children need or like to follow a routine. Why not incorporate reading into their schedule? This could include reading a book each night before bedtime.
4: Read books with favorable topics.
Choose books that include topics your child enjoys. If your child loves trains or dogs, incorporate those aspects of his life into the reading process.
5: Make it fun!
If you combine reading with cuddling, playtime, or other enjoyable activities, books become associated with fun time, as well as learning.
6: Be mindful of time.
If your child has a short attention span, start with reading shorter books.
7: Re-read the same stories.
Repetition can help your child learn language skills.
8: Associate words with pictures.
Increase learning opportunities by labeling items throughout the house to identify objects. Create labels with both the word and a picture for the designated object.
9: Read aloud.
Once your child is learning to read, encourage him to read aloud. First, have him listen to a story. Then, have him read aloud while scanning the text with his finger. Talk about the pictures. Reading aloud also helps with language development and listening skills.
No two autism cases are the same, and each child learns differently. I encourage you to consult your support team about teaching your child to read as his individual needs, strengths, and challenges will help to determine the best plan for learning.