Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easy Readers for Children with Autism

"I like books with pictures" my four year old told me, "this book [his brother's] doesn't have enough pictures."

He's onto a great truth there. Alice long ago declared "What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?"
And for many children, especially children with an autism diagnosis, the answer is often-"no use at all"

So here are a few easy readers with very good pictures that my older son
liked from about age four. He could read all of these on his own by age
six or seven. Indeed, all of them are also great picture book read alouds.

The Golly Sisters series/Byars
Go, Dog, Go/P. D. Eastman
Are You My Mother/P.D. Eastman
Put Me in the Zoo
Frog and Toad series/Lobel

The illustrations are color, a must for my child in his first years of reading.

And The Golly Sisters and Frog and Toad
series are short chapter books, great for helping beginning
readers take that step without the child saying "too many words"
- a frequent comment from my boy about other less illustrated
books with smaller print.

If you haven't met Frog and Toad, you'll be charmed to make their acquaintance.
These sweet amphibians are classic, and even had their own Broadway musical
(A Year with Frog and Toad)
that I recommend.

Thank you sweet sister for sending me the Broadway cast

"This is truth you can't refute, Toad looks funny in a
bathing suit!"

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do you find the word autistic offensive?

I asked a friend of mine who is a superb writer, an extraordinary disability advocate, a wonderful mother and does much else
besides, to comment on this blog.

She pointed out that many people find the word "autistic" extremely offensive. In People-First language you never
describe someone as autistic, but as having a diagnosis of autism.

Obviously, that's a problem for this blog since the word is in the address. I've also used it several other times.

Let me clarify that by autistic, I mean someone with a diagnosis of autism. That's all. It doesn't define my son, or any other child with that diagnosis.

When I first heard the word applied to my son, it was devastating. For at least a year I wouldn't allow anyone to use it.
I did not want my son's pediatrician to see the diagnosis. I did not want him labelled.
Of course, I couldn't bear the words "diagnosis of autism" either.

At the time all I knew of autism were stereotypes and generalizations. And some of the
physicians and specialists I encountered did little to help with that.
They too, have their stereotypes and generalizations that they foist
on the overwhelmed parents of the newly diagnosed.

I want to respect the wishes of my readers.
So I need to know what those wishes are.
Here's a quote from Wikipedia suggesting how tricky this question is:

"Person-first terminology is rejected by some people with disabilities,
most commonly the deaf and autistic communities.
The National Federation of the Blind has also officially rejected
person-first terminology. People who reject person-first terminology
generally see their condition as an important part of their identity,
and so prefer to be described as "deaf people" and "blind people"
and "autistics" or "autistic people" rather than "people with
deafness" and "people with blindness" and "people with autism".
In a reversal of the rationale for person-first terminology,
these people see person-first terminology as devaluing
an important part of their identity and falsely suggesting
that there is, somewhere in them, a person distinct from their

Notably, these two conditions have extensive effects on language use,
leading to significant subcultures, the deaf community and the autistic community.
These features are not shared with most other conditions that are commonly
considered disabilities. Some people with these conditions do not
consider them disabilities, but rather traits." -Wikipedia, March 29, 2010

So what to do?

Tell me what you think-I really want your comments.

Okay, I won't close without a book recommendation in case you're a regular reader (do I have any of those?).

Super Silly Sayings that are Over Your Head/Snodgrass
tries to help kids with an autism diagnosis and other literal thinkers
understand what odd expressions like "over your head" and "ants in your pants" really mean.
It's amply illustrated with both the literal and figurative meanings.

My boy liked the book well enough, but I have never heard him use a colloquial expression,
even though his speech therapist works on that skill specifically.
Yesterday she asked what he might say if she told him
"It's snowing outside."
"I'm pulling my leg." he replied

So am I in a sticky situation? Have I opened a can of worms? Walked into a hornet's nest?
Please tell me.*

*thanks to my two commenters! Click "comments" to read their great remarks

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Illustrations for Children with Autism Starting to Read

Most children learning to read do better with well illustrated books.
My librarian friends assure me that they look for books where the
illustrations show what is happening in the story, especially for
struggling readers or for children for whom English is
a second language.

What always astounds me is how often pictures do not
reflect the story at all, or reflect what happened pages ago or
what will happen in the next chapter.

My boy still wants pictures, but he has gone through phases
since first becoming an independent reader.
I'll talk about phase one today.

Phase 1 (Ages 5-7) Picture Books and Easy Readers

At this age my boy wanted a picture on every page spread.
Just as important, the pictures had to be in color.
At this point his favorites were two classic authors
I've already mentioned:

Madeline series/Bemelmans
Dr. Seuss

Easy Readers also offer color pictures and he would read
some of those on his own as well. These usually have their
own section in the library. At about age five, I started
steering my son away from the board book section to
the Easy Reader section.

Arthur series/Marc Brown
Clifford series
Mr. Putter and Tabby series/Rylant

My boy still plops down in the Easy Picture book section
to leaf through books.

His ability to understand visual abstraction has long
interested and puzzled me. Kids with an autism diagnosis
supposedly have deficits in this area, and in general I have
found this true. But in his own art he makes very abstract
representations and at the age of three he recognized that
a very abstract back massager represented a dolphin.

Yet he is only just beginning to accept black and white
pictures in books.

More colorful choices to come . . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry Books for Autistic Kids

My nine year old likes poetry now and always has. 
He made up his first poem before he was two.
He particularly likes rhymes.
The predictability of a pattern like that may really appeal
to a child on the spectrum.
He sometimes rhymes whatever he says when he is upset
to express his sadness or frustration.
Also, his attention to word and syllable count make him highly aware of poetic structure.

When he was a baby and toddler I could read him poems:
When We Very Young/Milne
Now We Are Six/Milne
Animals, Animals/ illustrated by Carle
Mother Goose/ illustrated by Wells
But by the time he was five he usually objected to my reading the poetry
(it was about the time he wouldn't let me sing to him anymore).
He wants to read it to himself now and will read anything that rhymes, like
Marmion by Sir Walter Scott last year
-heavy going for an eight year old.
I am not recommending it.
He likes the Silversteins,
Where the Sidewalk Ends
A Light in the Attic

but of course the absurdities sometimes cause problems. He likes to change and twist words,
but he also wants to know exactly what everything means-even nonsense words or concepts.
And there is always the danger of perserveration. Currently he is driving us mildly batty
with this:
An eyeball for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth,
a smile for a mouth
that goes north and south.
The Christian Mother Goose also caused problems because
the variants threatened to unseat the standards.
 I want him to have nursery rhymes in common with others.
So what do I recommend? All the baby/toddler stuff I mentioned, and for the older kids,
the ones he's reading now:
Bing Bang Boing/Florian (Harcourt Brace)
Dinothesaurus/Florian (atheneum)
Beastly Feasts!/Forbes (Overlook Duckworth)
A Bundle of Beasts/Hooper (Houghton Mifflin)
A World of Wonders/Lewis (Dial)
There once was a boy, very smart
who struggled to make social art.
He found he could rhyme,
almost all of the time,
and do it with feeling and heart.
-Spectrum Mom

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cartoon Books for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Cartoon books differ from graphic novels for me. Graphic novels for kids
usually take an existing story and illustrate it. This can be a great
tactic for my kid, or any kid who needs the text exactly matched to
the words.

Cartoon books for kids usually tell a new story, often a very simple one.

The best cartoon books for my boy are "Toon Books." Here are the ones we've read
with my guess at age range.
Luke on the Loose/Bliss - K-2
Penny and Benny in the Big No-No

Another fun cartoon book with many different contributors is
It Was a Dark and SIlly Night/Snicket, Gaiman, etc. (Little Lit)
(ages 9 - 12)
Each writer/illustrator repeats the idea with variations, which is useful for my boy. This is actually a very difficult
concept for some kids on the spectrum, and my nine year old might do better with this in another year.

The Mo Willems Pigeon books are picture books with the virtues of cartoon books (ages 2-5)
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, etc.

Cartoon books without words have not worked for my child (Owly,

You find cartoon books, comic books, and graphic novels all shelved together
at the library.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Having a Child on the Spectrum Read Aloud to Younger Sibling

This would be a great time for others to post comments about what their kids are reading because mine are on Spring Break.

My boy on the spectrum is reading Prince of Underwhere/Hale a combination cartoon/chapter book. He is not connecting with the text part, but enjoys the cartoons.

This may be a series to try again in a year.

He and I read picture books to my three year old. I say "Today the voice of Little Wolf will be played by
and he reads all Little Wolf's words. This keeps him involved when he would otherwise wander away. Of course,
if the book doesn't grab him he may need some prompting (repetition of his cue) and he insists I read "Little Wolf
said" before he'll go on reading little wolf's words.

Little Wolf is in Ahwoooooooo!/Murphy
He read Kenny in Kenny's Window/Sendak
and that went well tho we read it over several days. I found it heavier going than the boys did I think.

The much shorter Farm Friends Get Clean was a blast.

Books with animals work well because my preschooler can join in with the animal noises
so both kids are involved.

Do I have to tell any parent with two children that the boys sit on either side of me?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Peer Group Favorites

This will be a short post because my son doesn't read most of the books his peer group are reading. Many of them are
reading Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief and he just isn't ready for those books yet.

I've grouped these books by the times the other kids were reading them, my son was sometimes at the end of the time, but he overlapped.

Kindergarten & 1st Grade Dr Seuss & Madeline/Bemelmans
1st & 2nd Grade The Magic Treehouse series/Osborne,
Runny Babbit/Silverstein - Eric really loved talking this way for a long time.
2nd & 3rd Grade Geronimo Stilton series/Stilton
3rd & 4th Grade Diary of a Wimpy Kid - my son enjoys the pictures even though the plot sometimes eludes him.

Of course, enjoyment, comprehension, and appropriateness are more important than how popular the book is with other
kids. But if I can create any common ground with other kids, I will.

Anyone out there have any popular books that worked well for a child on the spectrum?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Funny Books for Children with Autism

When the psychologist diagnosed my son, she gave me a photocopy of a photocopy of an article about autism to read. As I
struggled to decipher the blurry words, a wave of relief washed over me and I rushed to the phone. "You've made a mistake," I said when I finally reached the psychologist, "my son shows affection. And he definitely has a sense of humor!"

Children with autism may find different stuff funny than neurotypical children, but I've yet to meet one with no sense of humor.

At age two my son enjoyed the usual toddler schtick-faces, peek-a-boo, object substitution, and liked the gentle humor in board books by authors Sandra Boynton and Rosemary Wells. He also loved books of opposites like John Burningham's Opposites and the frequent absurdism of comparison.

When he moved on to older picture books, James Stevenson became a favorite, his best include:

Don't Make Me Laugh
The Mud Flat

James Stevenson also writes funny poetry which is a subject for a whole different post.

My boy loves word play. At age 4 he would latch on to what you were talking about and try to talk about its opposite. At age
5 he started with the knock knock jokes. He makes up his own jokes, which are often less funny and more revealatory about how his mind works.

He likes books of knock-knock jokes, but other joke books don't interest him. And while he likes Benton's Franny K. Stein series and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, he doesn't
seem to find them funny.

Other funny favorites in the past include Alborough's Duck series
and Cronin's farmyard tales starting with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type.

Of course, at a certain age, most children will laugh at any story with enough funny sounds. Feel free to add your own.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels seem a natural match for the elementary school child with autism. They have lots of pictures to show what is happening and the text usually stays at a simple level. But many can be very cluttered and concepts can range in complexity from basic to truly bizarre. The style of illustration also varies from the representational to the highly stylized.

My son has no trouble with the fantastical (Dr. Seuss was his favorite ages 5-7), but the murky gives him difficulties.

The ones that work best for my child are those meant to help struggling readers. Several publishers have,
or have had, a series of this sort.

Stone Arch Graphic Spin series of graphic novels is specifically designed for reluctant and struggling readers.
The style of the books is very contemporary, a look associated with more sophisticated content. However, the stories
are the familiar ones and easily understood by young readers.
Titles include:
Beauty and the Beast
Snow White
Hansel and Gretel

Nantier Beall Mnoustchine has no over arching style so it depends on the illustrator
The Princess and the Frog (Eisner, very cartoonish)
Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows (Michael Hassle, Picture Book look)
Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book (Russell, 1940s adventure comics style)

There are of course, a plethora of graphic novel offerings for kids. But many just don't work for my nine year old child.
This does not mean they won't work for yours, or perhaps for your older child. But it is worth noting two that I thought
might work and why they didn't:

The Tale of Despereaux Graphic Novel - cluttered, relies on sophisticated empathetic understanding
Hardy Boys #1 - advanced concepts about spying and government institutions

One of the neat things about graphic novels is that your school age child looks age appropriate reading them, and can
talk about them with others if s/he wants to do so.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reading Aloud to Young Children on the Autism Spectrum

Reading aloud to my children gives me a warm, connected feeling. I feel I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing.

When my son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, nobody mentioned anything about what books to read aloud. I assume because there's no official position on the matter.

If you have a very young child who has been diagnosed with autism, you may wonder whether you need to pick the books you read aloud more carefully.

I would suggest letting your child be your guide, just as you would with any child. Read whatever you choose as long as your child is engaged. If your child seems uninterested you may want to remember some criteria I discussed earlier, and will rephrase here:

- representational, uncrowded illustrations that directly represent the text
- simple text

Board books with babies appeal to most little ones. My son, like many kids with an autism diagnosis, looked less at people's faces than other children. But he enjoyed the various babies and toddlers photographed by Tom Arma, Neil Ricklen, and Anne Geddes in little board books with simple, sometimes word-a-page texts. Similar books without credited authors include Good Night Baby, Baby Faces and Baby's Home.

My brother suggests One Yellow Lion by Matthew VanFleet as an amazingly engrossing book for young children with a simple direct presentation of numbers and animals.

Janet and Allan Ahlberg wrote and illustrated The Baby's Catalogue, a series that presents familiar concepts with charming, recognizable illustrations. Titles include See the Rabbit and Blue Buggy.

They also wrote a book (Each Peach, Pear, Plum) I love, but can't recommend for this audience. The illustrations are attractive, but confusing and my son never engaged with the book at all.

Reading offers an easy opportunity to try to encourage habits like pointing-often difficult for children on the spectrum-and recognizing emotions-ditto. But only if the encouragement comes naturally and does not diminish the enjoyment.

When reading to a young child, both the reader and the child should be enjoying themselves. You want the child to think of books as fun, not work.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who is an autistic reader?

Since no two kids are alike, and kids on the autism spectrum differ at least as much as typically developing kids, you may
question (please do-I'm a little lonely here) the use of the term "autistic reader."

All readers have their own preferences. But just as libraries create lists of books for different grade levels, I want to create
a list for kids with autism. Within that list there could be many subsets by age, skills, and preferences. So please, send
comments with your own experiences. I welcome finding out if my suggestions worked or didn't work for your child.

Finding a book that a child enjoys is always trial and error. Last year, when my son was eight, we tried The Magic Treehouse series by Osborne. Many of his peers read that in first thru third grade.
He didn't like it much. But a contemporary of his with an autism diagnosis really likes the books and has read many of

A book can meet all the criteria I discussed yesterday and not be liked, or it can fail to meet the criteria and still be a
favorite. But books that meet the criteria of simple, well-illustrated stories are a good place to start.

I mentioned in my second post that my boy liked the Carle illustrated "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" series when another child
with a diagnosis did not. Interestingly, I just saw a book from the series on a booklist for autistic children.
My thanks to my brother who reminded me to search with quotation marks: "books for autistic children."

And keep in mind that unless otherwise specified, the "autistic reader" I have in mind is my boy, past and present.
Tell the world about your child's favorites and give parents some help in searching for the books their children will

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reluctant Readers and Readers with Autism

The Man Who Wore All His Clothes

If you're looking for suggestions from librarians or booksellers,
and your child is in elementary school,
you may want to ask what they would suggest for a reluctant
reader with your child's skills.

Of course reluctant readers are not readers with autism and every child is different,
but there is often some overlap in what appeals to these two groups. And your child
may very well be in both groups in any case.

Reluctant readers and readers with autism often prefer
- larger print
- fewer words per page
- fewer pages
- more pictures
than other children their age.

The Storm (The Lighthouse Family)
Books that match this criteria include Ahlberg's series about the Gaskitt family
starting with The Man Who Wore All His Clothes
Rylant's Lighthouse Family series
starting with The Storm
and Benton's Franny K. Stein series
starting with Lunch Walks Among Us

These were third grade (age 8) favorites for my son.

However, differences between the two groups need to be kept in mind.

Readers with autism usually need
- illustrations that reflect the text exactly
- a story with as little subtext as possible

The Rylant books with their sweet stories about cute animals work very well for these constraints, but may be unpopular with reluctant readers because reluctant readers often choose books based on
- what other kids think
- age/gender (boys may reject books as "baby books" or "girl books")
- current fads

Conversely, books that work for reluctant readers may not work for readers with autism.
The Benton books depict things that could not really happen and the Ahlberg books sometimes shift narrative viewpoint. This may be a litte confusing for kids with autism.

Last year my son enjoyed both of these series, but he struggled with
the last book in the Gaskitt series, The Children Who Smelled a Rat
because it suddenly shrunk typeface size and condensed the story for dramatic effect.

Reluctant readers may also easily understand concepts that some readers with autism do not. My nine year old liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid but didn't understand many of the ideas.
The mother of a third grade reluctant reader told me Diary was a favorite for her kid and he had no trouble with the sixth grade setting.

Still, if you're having trouble finding recommendations, books for reluctant readers may be a place to start.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Perspective on What Kids with Autism Read/Need

Yesterday I looked at Cate's Folly, a blog with a great post discussing the scarcity of books
that meet the needs of children with autism.

The post underscores the differences between children, because while her nephew with autism struggled with the narrative point of view and the abstraction in Carle, my son really liked Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See and the others in that sequence.

Cate notes the Kipper books as useful because the illustrations show only what is in the story without distracting abstraction or extraneous details. Charlotte Voake's picture books are great for this reason and also have wit and charm. My son still enjoys Mother Goose's Baby and Ginger.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I'm the mother of a nine year old and a three year old. The nine year old was diagnosed
with PDD-NOS at age two.

Has anyone found a good source of book suggestions for kids on the autism spectrum?
I haven't, so I'm starting one. I welcome your help!

When my boy started choosing his own books, he favored rhyming books.
From about age 5 - 8 he loved Bemelmans (Madeline) and Dr. Seuss.

At age nine he still gravitates towards Mother Goose and other picture books,
His decoding skills are great, his comprehension poor.
He does better with books that picture heavy.

Please send your ideas and experiences and more to come from me.

S Mom

What about you?