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.

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