We often think of the library and the wonderful books they hold when we think of reading to our children. We, however, are often the best source of books for our children with autism because we know the details of their lives. Children love to see themselves and other familiar people in pictures, and they love to hear about stories that relate to them. So tap into your creative spirit and make a book just for them.
Depending on your child’s abilities and interests, you can create a story with a simple picture and/or a few words or a more ambitious book with chapters. When children “help” to create a book, they begin to understand that symbols on a page have meaning and that a real person (like themselves) can communicate ideas by writing. It is very empowering for a child to write something that can be read again and again and writing is sometimes a child’s easiest mode of communication.
As an occupational therapist, I have had the opportunity to write short stories with children for years. When working with very young children, I often focus the story telling/writing activity on a picture they make, using their own words and ideas as much as possible. As a parent, some of my favorite keepsakes are my children’s original writing and drawing. When you begin to write with your child, I would recommend simply labeling pictures or writing short sentences about the pictures, writing the child’s name on the picture and giving the picture a title.
When I became a grandparent, I began writing short stories with my grandson about activities we did together. Our first book was about our trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. Auntie E took many pictures of my grandson doing things in the museum. These pictures included him running in the hallway, lying on a bench, and playing with the exhibits. I wrote down any comments he made as we visited each exhibit. When we got home from our adventure, he helped to pick out his favorite pictures, and we matched his words with the pictures. He was included in every picture we choose for the book. I added a few more pictures, added a few words to each picture and put the pictures in order. I added a title page complete with names of the authors and illustrator and put everything into a small photo album. And we had our very first “published” book!
Ready to make your own? Here’s what I’ve learned doing this literacy activity with my kids, my grandson and my students.
- Choose an event and /or activity that interests your child or that you feel is important. Consider a simple daily event like eating breakfast, a holiday activity, a seasonal event (i.e. shoveling snow), visiting a friend or relative.
- Create a simple story board. In other words, write down or draw out the sequence of events that make this story. This will probably change as you make the book but it will give you a starting point.
- Create pictures of the event. These pictures can be drawn, taken with a camera during the event, cut out from magazines, and/or downloaded from the computer.
- Select pictures that show actions/objects/people familiar to your child that support your story line. When possible allow your child to choose some of the pictures.
- Write up simple descriptions of what is happening in each picture. Literacy experts suggest writing five to 10 words on a page for preschoolers but this is really dependent on how much your child understands and his/her ability to attend to a story.
- When you are writing a book with your child use his language as much as possible. If your child calls a ball a “yellow thrower”, consider using this terminology in your book. If you use a color or size to describe an object or person use script to reflect this. For example, write the word “red” in red and the word “big” in BIG letters.
- Put the pictures/ pages together in a logical order.
- Create a front page with a title, the authors’ and the illustrators’ names and possibly pictures of the people involved beside their names. Being able to find a title and the author’s name in a book is a literacy skill.
- Insert pages into your photo album. You can also use contact paper to protect the sheets and punch holes or stable the pages together. I prefer the photo album option since it allows the book to change and grow with your child’s interests.
And now you’re ready to start reading! “Read” the book together. This may mean simply looking at the pictures and making comments or actually reading the script on each page. This may mean reading the same page over and over. Since you and your child are the authors, you have total control of the book so you can even change the book as you read and reread it. Seeing themselves, their story and their lives reflect in a “book” make incredible connections for young children with autism. Plus they will be motivated to read and write which is one more step down the road of a life-long love of reading.