Special Needs Parenting: Five Ways to Use Stories to Help Your Child with Autism

Miriam Gwynne by Miriam Gwynne Additional Needs

Miriam Gwynne

Miriam Gwynne

Full time mum and carer for two truly wonderful autistic twins. I love reading, writing, walking, swimming and encouraging others. Don’t struggle a...

My daughter is an avid reader, can write and spell well and has a huge vocabulary.

Meanwhile, her twin brother has no speech, severe learning difficulties and cannot read or write at all.

I still read to them both every single day.

One of our favourite places to go to as a family is the local bookshop and although the children are looking at vastly different books they are both able to enjoy stories in their own way.

Stories are such a great way to help any child, but even more so children on the spectrum who gain greatly from having a visual link to the language and for whom it can also be a multi-sensory experience via sounds, doors to open or even hands on a clock to move.

Often the repetition of children's stories is ideal for a child on the spectrum who perhaps needs extra time to process the information.

Of course as well as printed books, ebooks or even watching stories via technology, there is also the ability to help children make up their very own stories too.

My daughter loves this especially on car journeys to relieve the boredom.

We have laughed together over silly made up stories but also practiced vital social skills such as turn taking, listening and working as a team.

Here are 5 of my favourite ways to use story telling as a tool to help your child with autism at any level:

1. Read with them in whatever way that interests them.

For my son this is using sensory baby style books with different materials or sounds to bring stories to life for him.

I often adapt stories in books as I read them to simplify them or make them shorter due to his level of understanding or we only read a page and then I try and link something direct to him.

For my daughter, who is an avid reader, I still read to her at a level just above her own reading ability as this introduces her to new vocabulary and texts without the stress of struggling to read new words.

I read in funny voices, different accents and in different places to keep it interesting.

2. Act out the story to help them understand.

For many children with autism or learning difficulties language can be so confusing.

We have had such fun acting out simple children's stories at home like Goldilocks and Three Bears where we have tried eating out of different plates and lying on each other's beds while I narrated.

For other stories we have used puppets or teddies to play parts bringing the text to life and helping them both to visualise the storyline.

3. Allow them to make up stories even if they don't make sense.

Children are natural story tellers, even if they are not able to speak.

When my son brings me pictures or he looks at photographs on his iPad, I use these to tell stories about where we went and what we did that day.

For my son it would be too confusing to make things up that never happened so I stick to the events he will be familiar with.

My daughter, like most children, will happily make up stories while playing with her toys and I play along and encourage this as much as possible.

4. Use stories to prepare them for further events.

Professionals often refer to this as a social story which is a specific type of story used to help children on the spectrum to cope with something new to them such as visiting the dentist or starting school.

If you are not able to write your own stories there are some excellent 'first experience' type stories available for children such as the ever popular Biff, Chip and Kipper first experiences or Topsy and Tim.

For children who need more than this there are apps available with free social stories in video format such as going places.

5. Share stories of your childhood to help them.

These don't have to be long but keep them relevant to your child.

One day after school my daughter shared how a child got wet during assembly as there was a window open on a wet day.

She was anxious this could happen to her and what would happen. I was able to share a story about how I fell in a puddle one day when I was at school and how the school had a basket of spare clothes that I was able to use.

This helped her understand that everything was alright and we laughed at what had previously been a stressful event for her. Stories can be enjoyed at all levels, from the youngest of babies to the oldest in the family.

My son may never be able to tell a story vocally but he can share via pictures which is just as valid as speech.

Storytelling offers us all so much and can be enjoyed by everyone, especially those on the autism spectrum.

On national storytelling week, what story do you have to tell?


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