How you can encourage an autistic child to read and write

Stephen McHugh
This post was last updated on
August 19, 2022

Reading is an activity from which we can get information and meaning from written words. Some books can contain facts about certain things, like objects, people and places. Others can be story books, some with pictures, and may be based on assumed characters and settings. 

Reading is an important activity in different ways, and is therefore encouraged. It helps us to build vocabulary and general understanding, gain knowledge of different things, and can even spark imagination and creativity. It also gives us an insight into how language is used and how words are put together to make meaningful sentences, and in turn, to meaningful texts. This can be useful when it comes to writing and speaking skills, and aiding comprehension too. They may struggle to work out how certain characters may be feeling at various points throughout the stories.

Based on my experiences, children who are on the autism spectrum can experience difficulties with reading, and this can in turn demonstrate difficulties with reading comprehension. More complicated language forms, like idioms, inferences and metaphors can be especially difficult, as they may take literal views of language. This 

One other thing I experienced was having difficulty following class stories. That is, I’d be more interested in things interesting to me, rather than the stories the teacher would be doing with the rest of the class.

Referring to a child’s favourite things and interests, I found, can help to get an autistic child interested in reading more. The ones listed below were mine. Parents and teachers can, at least try to play their part here too.

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Aerobie flying ring

This is a flying ring that can fly long distances. It’s record is just over 400 metres, which is around ¼ of a mile. It is because of this fact that this toy became one of my favourites. I was fascinated with extremities. My mum came up with and read a story to me based on this.

In the story I would throw my aerobie in the garden just to test it out. And on one occasion, I decided to throw it really hard to see how far it would really go, and it flew over the garden fence, over the fields, until it was out of sight in the distance. I was now sad, thinking it was lost and gone forever. 

But sometime later, a strange coincidence would occur. A flock of birds flew over my house. One of the birds dropped what looked like a ring from the sky, which happened to land in my garden. It turned out to be my aerobie ring. I stood there, relieved, and knew that I would have to be in an open field to try that kind of throw again.

Lego

I used to like building tall lego houses and long gardens when I had access to large amounts of lego pieces. My mum would write stories based on them with ideas from me. Ideas of mine included imagining I had lego friends and the interesting things and adventures we’d do. I imagined the house would have things of interest to me, including a grand piano, playing my favourite tunes, and colourful lights which would all come on at night. And on the roof, there would be telescopes where me and my friends would peer into space, excited at the views of the moon, planets, and many stars sprinkling in the eyepieces.

Telescopes & binoculars

Telescopes and binoculars are instruments that can make distant objects appear nearer and larger. If these are of interest to you, you could imagine yourself travelling up the telescope or binocular tubes, emerging the other side, and find yourself with an enlarged view of the moon, planets or whatever it was you’re looking at. For me here, it can be the thought of going on an interesting adventure, exploring faraway and unknown exciting places.

Nature

One story written by my mum here was titled, ‘A Special Garden’. It started off with a boy who wanted to cut his enormous overgrown garden with his own petrol lawnmower. However, he discovers that his lawnmower didn’t work and would have to wait several weeks for it to be repaired. Over those several weeks, the grass would grow even more. When he got the lawnmower back and began cutting it, at one stage he discovered a nest had been built by a mother bird to protect her baby birds. He would peep every now and again at this nest over a number of weeks. During that time he decided not to cut the grass around the area until the birds could fly away to new homes. This helped me develop an interest in the nature table.

To summarise, by reading stories, and even writing short ones with ideas from autistic children that are, in some ways, related to the child’s particular interests, you can find their interest in reading increasing over time.   Read this post here for ideas about how to keep and develop a child's interest in reading further. You'll may find some ideas for writing development too.  I'd like to hear about the methods used by any teachers or parents to try and encourage an autistic child to become more interested in reading.


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