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11 Tips To Encourage Reading In Children With Autism

Reading is often a struggle for children diagnosed with autism, since problems with language form a large part of the condition. If you are the parent of a child with autism you may despair of him ever learning to read, and become discouraged. This is a process that can take many years, and has to be built up one stage at a time.

The step between reading and repeating the letters and the alphabet and putting them together to form sentences can take a lot longer than you expect, and it's important not to underestimate this. This varies for every child (for my son it was five or six years between being able to read and recognise the alphabet and starting to read his first words).

If you are a parent who finds your child has difficulty in this area, and you want some help, read on.
  1. Read little and often

    Try to get into the habit of some daily reading, because you want your child to remember what he learnt the previous day, and to build on it.

    Don't put it all off until the weekend, and then attempt a marathon literacy session. It is far easier to concentrate for a short space of time, depending on the age of your child and his normal attention span. You may need to start at just 5 minutes at a time, increasing as your child gets older to around 45 minutes: beyond that time, you will get less and less return for your efforts.
  2. Use cvc words first

    Many books for children, even early board books and first readers, will not be designed with your child's vocabulary in mind. Some of them even include words that children at the earliest reading levels will not have a hope of being able to pronounce, such as "xylophone" or "through".

    Three-letter cvc words (consonant-vowel-consonant) are amongst the easiest to pronounce. Ensure that any material you give your child early on has plenty of these.
  3. Use a chalkboard

    Using a chalkboard means you can set your own exercises, at exactly the comprehension level he needs.

    Write out simple sentences and phrases for your child to read using cvc words:

    "The big pig ate a fig"

    "Dogs jog on a log"

    And so on. The sillier the better.
  4. Rhyme and repetition

    The Cat In The Hat by Dr Seuss is a good book for beginners due to its repetition of cvc rhyming words. Repeated words are obviously easier to remember.
  5. Start with words that are pronounced as they are spelt

    Even some short words aren't pronounced phonetically. Words such as what, was, two, girl, one and are, for example. Avoid dealing with these words until your child is fairly confident with words that are pronounced the way they are written.

    When he is successfully reading words such as cat, bin or get, gradually introduce words with more difficult pronunciations.
  6. Persevere

    Although it's not uncommon for children with autism to experience reading difficulties, it's also not unknown for an apparently hopeless situation to turn around as soon as they reach the right stage of development. Sometimes, things just click into place.
  7. Don't let your child guess

    Sometimes your child will take clues about what he is reading from the surrounding pictures. Also, if he is over-familiar with a story he may simply remember how it goes without having to read. In order to assess his true reading level you will sometimes need to use text, and to vary the stories frequently. Again, this is where a chalkboard or text-only flashcards will come in handy.
  8. Words hold secrets

    A good way of encouraging reluctant readers is to write down juicy secrets that he will want to uncover. Make it into a game for learning prepositions, or simply write down any interesting events or activities for that week. Keep it simple and short.
  9. Shopping lists

    As soon as he is able, encourage your child to read and write shopping lists.
  10. Pictures

    Picture books may have drawbacks for assessing a child's reading level, but good pictures will attract him to books in general, and introduce the idea of stories that exist only in the imagination. Don't abandon picture-books altogether, in spite of point #7.
  11. Improve concentration

    In order to get the best out of any reading session, your child should be as alert as possible. Don't confine reading to just before bedtime. Ideally take a short, brisk walk or some other form of mild exercise just before you start. Also, make sure your child has a drink of water (not pop or squash) beforehand because dehydration impairs alertness.

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