Literacy and Children with Autism

The world of literacy for children can be filled with endless possibilities when learning how to read, speak and write. Children with Autism may not necessarily acquire and develop early literacy skills as the typical population, but who isn’t to say that they can’t gain anything at all? The coolest thing about being on the spectrum is the ability to learn at your own individualized pace. However, some may question; why bother teaching children with Autism how to read or write, when they lack early developmental skills that are essential for literacy? These can lead to some general misconceptions, which need to be addressed. Myth: My child cannot speak, so how will they learn to read? Fact: The awesome thing about storybooks in early childhood is the opportunity for creative imagination. Storybooks open the doors to any child’s sense of wonder, as well as a natural opportunity to engage in social interaction with the reader. If we often try to promote language and social interaction through parallel play or natural environmental teaching, then whose to say we can’t do the same thing when reading? Reading can promote conversation between the teacher/parent and child, increase their vocabulary, introduce early concepts of writing/printing, early phonetics of letters as well as comprehension of the story. Myth: You can only teach literacy to a child with Autism while sitting at a traditional table/classroom setting. Fact: Even though there are tons of resources and academic workbooks that are commonly implemented when teaching a child how to read or write, we can introduce early literacy across any environment with a creative set of tools. For example, when generalizing these skills into the home setting, there are many things that can spark our children’s interest. We can label things that he or she may have a common interest in (i.e. a favourite toy) to a household item (i.e. bed). Therefore we can draw attention to the print of the label to their everyday items, as well as increasing their vocabulary. Finding many print items in your household (i.e. magazines, calendars, birthday cards, boxes from their toys, etc.) is a wonderful natural way to expose your child to letter sounds, words, and sentences. Finally, always make sure to leave a set of pencils, markers and papers lying around for your child to practice drawing, printing, and writing words/sentences when the perfect opportunity arises! Myth: We should deter children with Autism away from their uncommon interests. Fact: Yes, sometimes children on the spectrum may have extreme interests that we may not find necessary exciting. Whether it is from elevators, to penguins or subways, some children with Autism may find this to be the most fascinating thing in the world! Therefore, why not find literature or storybooks that not only can maintain their “non-traditional” interests, but to also promote their motivation to read and learn! This opportunity can teach our children the concept of joint-attention between the reader and the listener, learn how to identify the character’s, look at pictures, how to hold a book, how to turn pages, the difference between fiction/non-fiction, the problem/solution to the story, setting, plot, etc. Eventually as every educator or parent’s goal, this can eventually enhance their curiosity while reading and hopefully move on to new interests! Literacy is important for all children, all children can learn we just need to teach them the right way.   Once we give our children knowledge and power they will be unstoppable.    

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