Autism And Reluctant Readers

It’s no secret that Autistic children can find reading a challenge. A few words or short sentences can be overwhelming as they struggle to process the steps needed to proceed through a task.

The same applies when asking an autistic child a question, they need to work through the steps before being able to answer.

Allowing them to take their time, to calmly go through these steps at their own pace, can have far more positive results than many realise.

When I worked with children who needed extra-curricular support, I would often describe these steps as being like changing gears.

  • First gear - read the word.

  • Neutral - decode the word.

  • Second gear - work out what it means.

  • Neutral – prepare to read the next word or deliver their answer.

  • Third gear - Now they are ready to move onto the next word or task.

Each step in the process is an achievement. And when your reluctant reader achieves, whether it be a single word, a few words, a sentence, or a paragraph, celebrate these successes and encourage your autistic reluctant reader to keep going.

Consider Your Surroundings

Be aware of anything that might be a sensory distraction. Are their any bright lights or sudden noises. Something as insignificant as a washing machine beeping the end of a cycle can be enough to bring a successful session to an abrupt end.

‘Reading can feel less of a chore when it’s part of a game or fun activity.’

Pauline Tait

Helpful strategies to encourage your autistic reluctant reader…

  • Picture cards This is where your reluctant reader matches the picture to the word. Ensure the words aren’t too tricky as that can bring an abrupt end to the game. Instead, make sure most of the words are familiar to your reluctant reader and add in harder words, one or two at a time. 

  • Audiobooks are a great way of introducing your reluctant reader to new words, worlds, and characters. An autistic child is far more likely to ask what a tricky word means when they don’t have to struggle to sound it out first. They also become engaged with the story far quicker when it’s being read to them.

    Some autistic children will often like the feeling of the headphones against their ears. I don’t mean ear buds; I mean headphones that cover most of the outside of the ear. Children can feel secure with them on as they drown out other noises and apply gentle comforting pressure to the outer ear. Just beware that I am only recommending these for inside the house, children need to hear traffic when out and about. 

  • Text-to-touch software, computer programmes and Apps. In some instances, these can be extremely helpful. If mobility would make picture cards and similar resources tricky, then similar programmes would still feed creativity and imaginations.

Call to Action

This week, using the strategies I have mentioned above, look for different ways of incorporating reading into your reluctant reader’s daily routine.

Reading can feel less of a chore when it’s part of a game or fun activity. And to allow you to adapt to the autistic traits of your reluctant reader, I have suggested two approaches to this week’s call to action.

  1. Spend time chatting with your reluctant reader about the various ways of incorporating reading into their daily routines. This way you are planning the steps forward together. Your reluctant reader will feel in control and, therefore, will be more likely to comply.

  2. If you feel the pressure of making such decisions would be more stressful for your reluctant reader, quietly introduce your choice of strategies ensuring there is no pressure on your reluctant reader to instantly comply. These things can take time and patience is often required.

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