What's this about?
Line Up The Books is a children's book review blog written primarily for parents and educators of children with autism. I am a mother of 5-year-old autistic twin boys.
What's your name?
I am using pseudonyms to preserve the future privacy of my children online. Call me Mama Bibliosoph.
What kind of expertise do you have regarding autism spectrum disorder?
Are you autistic yourself?
I am not. But I'm not neurotypical either. I have multiple sclerosis, which is a progressive disease that results in changes (damage) to the brain and spinal cord over time. I also have OCD and take medication to manage it. My issues are not the same as my sons, but I do have some personal understanding of what it means to have a brain that works differently.
What kind of expertise do you have regarding books?
Lots and lots. I have worked for a small literary press, interned at a major literary agency, edited an independent non-fiction magazine, interned for a magazine publishing fiction, and edited two books (one fiction; one non-fiction) that are both still in print. I am also a published short story and novella writer who mostly writes in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
BUT I don't have professional experience in the children’s literature genres.
Are your children mildly or severely autistic?
When they were first diagnosed, the boys were both given a Level 2 (moderate) diagnosis, but that's changed over time. Harry is my sensory-seeker, while Luke is more sensory protective. Harry extremely verbal, but struggles with pragmatics, while Luke still has a lot of scripting and echolalia and generally speaks less. Our house buzzes with stimming, is challenged by rigidity, and revels in my sons' special interests (Harry loves animals and Luke loves vehicles). Both children are in full-time ABA school programs. Harry is in a class of 8, while Luke is in a 1:1 program.
Are you being paid to feature particular books or companies?
I am not. This blog is a non-commercial project. I also do not use affiliate links. My book links will take you to a book's page on the social network Goodreads. I encourage parents to use libraries to "try out" books before spending any money.
Do you have general tips for reading to kids with autism?
Definitely. Several themes have arisen since I've begun writing this blog. If reading to your kids is difficult, some of these ideas may help:
Don't assume that your child will respond to the same books as their typical peers or their siblings; the goal is to encourage reading, and reading is inherently a matter of personal preference. As parents of kids with ASD, we put our kids under microscopes and spend a lot of time worrying about whether their interests are "normal" or if what they aren't interested in is a sign of a developmental deficit or a barrier to social integration. There is nothing dysfunctional about your child's book preferences as long as they are letting adults read to them or are reading themselves.
Choose books that: rhyme, have rhythm, singalong lyrics, word/phrase repetition
Choose sensory books with audio, visual, and tactile input opportunities to encourage your child's interest in books
Choose books that tie into your child's specific interests, and don't forget to consider media tie-in books (ie. Don't be a snob or take an unnecessary stance against popular media franchises like Peppa Pig). Choose books that give your kids their best shot at fostering an interest in reading.
Ask your child to participate. Have them turn the page, find something in a picture, say some words (intraverbals), put completed books on the shelf, etc.
Establish a familiar routine for reading at a relaxed time of day when you are not rushed. If you aren't already in a routine, this may involve some tears and frustration for awhile. Get past the hump of this adjustment and force it if necessary to begin with. Keep it consistent no matter what.
Think about your reading environment. Lights off with a flashlight can create interest! An oversized bean bag chair may help a child remain focused. Think about your child's sensory and attention needs and how to accommodate them.
If your child can request or show preference, let them choose a book!
Have about 12 books in rotation and read the same books over and over again. When your child loses interest in a book, put it away for a few months and then bring it back into rotation.
Praise your child to reinforce their hard work, whatever that means for them (for sitting nicely, looking at the book, pointing at the bunny, putting the book away, etc.).
Put on a Broadway show. Too many people read to kids in a monotone voice and sit totally still. Read like you have been cast in a play: Emote, emote, emote. Develop funny voices. Act out key words and phrases to help your child decipher meaning. Get up and move! Use your hands and eyes to express yourself. Tickle, bounce, or cuddle a child who needs that input to focus and especially when it fits in with the narrative. You might think moving around and physical play isn't functional during reading time. Stop thinking ten steps ahead. Step one: Support a child's interest in reading. Step two: Shape behavior.
Engage. Ask your child questions about what you read and to point to things in the book. If this is difficult, give your child choices to guide them: Did the Little Old Lady swallow a fly or a slug? (h/t to Harry's brilliant neuropsychologist!)
In general, do not take away books because you think they are "too young," or because a child stims with them, or because a child scripts the book, or because the child is copying something in the book you disapprove of, or because a child wants to read that book "too much." Associations matter. Books should be as freely given as water, bring joy, and be as reinforcing as possible. Avoid creating negative associations with books, being read to, and social reading.
Try again tomorrow. There will be lots of days when your read-alouds feel broken. They will be followed by good ones. It's all about practice and routine. It may take a long time, but your consistency will pay off.