Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Designing a Sensitive Storytime: Supporting Families Living with Autism

Designing a Sensitive Storytime: Supporting Families Living with Autism

This past Friday MELSA hosted a presentation by the Center for Engaging Autism on Designing a Sensitive Storytime.     

The Center for Engaging Autism is an organization that seeks to connect families living with autism with information, support, and strategies they need to fully engage in their homes, schools, and communities using research, practice, and day-day living. This organization created this training  to help train youth librarians in awareness and techniques to enable them to engage families living with autism in literacy activities. Literacy is often an area that people on the autism spectrum struggle with. Despite often having great memories and sometimes an ability to read words at an early age, most on the autism spectrum have a hard time with comprehension, generalizing, and analysis. This training was made possible with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education using federal funding, CFDA 84.027A, Special Education- Grants to States, because Literacy Matters!) and was done in consultation with staff from Hennepin County Libraries.

Why a Sensitive Storytime?

*To let families living with autism know there is a place for them in the library because these families often feel they are on the outside and that the library is only for people who can sit still and engage in "typical" ways
*To help families whose members struggle with elements of literacy learn strategies to teach literacy skills
*To increase the library's impact on literacy in the autism community

Autism Awareness

*Defecits in social communication and interaction
*Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities
*Some things families with autism wish you knew

How Children with Autism Think and Learn

Processing/Rote Learning

*Autism is believed to be related to brain circuitry, connectivity

*May have difficulties with processing, process information at much slower speeds. One of the speakers commented that it is as if the person's communication input and output are all being handled through one rotary phone.

*People living with autism may display excellent rote memory skills which allows learning whole words, reading repetitive and predictable books (can mask comprehension difficulties)

Some books that offer repetition and and predictability are: Banana, Moo, Move Over Rover, Froggy Gets DressedBrown Bear, Brown Bear, Where the Wild Things Are

The speakers discussed that repetitive, predictable books are a great way to engage kids who are on the autism spectrum and that it is okay then to throw in some that have a twist as a way to build flexibility. 

*Children with autism may have a preference for visual representation pictures

*Visual information can help improve understanding

*Visuals/pictures can help develop pre-literacy skills

*Visuals help to develop meaning to words/text

*Visuals can help keep kids engaged in reading

Some books that may appeal to visual learners in storytimes are: The Snowman, and Not a Box

Central Coherence

*Central coherence is the ability to process pieces of information (details) to get the big picture and the meaning

*Youth on the autism spectrum tend to get stuck on the details and have trouble picking out the main idea

*Can help kids to see general meaning by expanding on details. For example, one child felt the most important part of Pinnochio was that his nose grew. This could be expanded by talking about what it means when Pinnochio's nose grows to help lead to the main idea, the meaning.

Joint Attention

* Joint attention (See presentations: Adaptations..and Adapting and Early Literacy...) is sharing mutual interest and enjoyment with another person.

*Maintaining joint attention may be difficult for a child on the autism spectrum

*Dialogic reading is an activity that promotes joint attention

Some books that could be used for building joint attention are The Napping House and Just Go to Bed.

 *Kids with autism typically experience a slower response to learning from watching and observing others.

*Typically it is harder for these kids to learn through imitation and easier through direct teaching

*It is harder for children on the spectrum to read people's minds or deduce through observation

*Dialogic reading helps break down this process through observation/practice/imitation.

Theory of Mind

*Research findings indicate children with autism have difficulties with understanding the perspective of others (their thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions)

*According to a study by Kidd and Costano theory of mind can improve through reading of literary fiction.

*Young readers can practice social skills through reading. They can learn through characters, imagining themselves in different situations.

Some books that may be used are: Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Brambly Hedge Books, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Little Bear, Banana, and Skippyjon Jones 

Storytimes provide opportunities for improvement in areas of autism: 

*Joint attention

*Getting the big picture-Central coherence

*Social and language development

Sensory Issues

*In kids on the spectrum the senses (including proprioceptive (sense of where body is in space and how to respond to external input) and vestibular (balance) can be over/under sensitive. When under sensitive, may seek input, when over sensitive may shut down, avoid input.

*Sensory processing issues can cause kids on the spectrum to have a fear of the unknown and prefer routine, have motor planning (knowing how to get somewhere, how to do something) issues, have unexpected behaviors (noise-may avoid it, may produce it), wandering, varying levels of attention

*If a child is not looking at you, covering his/her ears, he/she is probably still processing. The fact that he/she isn't wandering/running off, means that he/she is making an effort to be there and is likely working on blocking out other sensory input in order to do so.

*Joint attention may be easier at first if children do things side by side instead of directly interacting with each other

*Children on the spectrum have delayed processing/response, give time to participate (motor planning of speech, handwriting can lead to delayed response)

*Shifting attention can be challenging, give them time, help cue when shifts will occur

*Redirection can help when stuck thinking occurs

*Provide a dedicated space for story time that gives visual cues as to where one should sit and where activities will occur

*Minimize distractions

*Have a list of welcoming rules (some suggestions: It's okay to come and go, it's okay to bring a stuffed animal, it's okay to go to the calming area or to leave and come back, etc...)

*Have a clear entrance/exit so that families can come and go as needed without having to worry about getting in someone's way

*Have a space for getting away from the crowd-bean bag chairs, pop-up tent, blanket over a table may be helpful-a space to regroup, to hide but still have a view of what is going on

*May consider whether could host storytimes before/after the library is open so that families can come at a calmer, quieter, less distracting time

*white noise machine and/or soft repetitive music may help block out background noises or having noise cancelling headphones may help

*Visual schedules (word and pictures) listing what will happen during storytime can be helpful. Can put them on velcro or flannel board or otherwise make so can move around, add/take away elements as needed..May put in an "all done" pocket when activities are done or could try saying "Hello" or "Goodbye" to the activities as they are introduced/completed. 

*Review the schedule at the beginning

*Have routines that are repeated each time like a certain welcome song/poem to provide a sense of comfort

*Make activities interactive and engaging

*Provide many opportunities for parents to connect with their children so that they can replicate these at home

*Use visuals and props to engage pre-readers

*Have stories that use a variety of reading and listening levels

*Gage your audience and switch to fewer words and more participation if needed

*Have some routines that everyone can learn to help them feel confident and capable-certain songs, movements, rhymes (like saying "Hello" or "Goodbye" to activities on the activity schedule

Home Activities: Extenders

*Provide a "take away" for parents so they can bring storytime learning into their home. This could be short suggestions on music, fingerplays, titles on a 1/4 sheet. Could include materials created for families living with autism, lists of local resources, ideas for pretend play at home-pretend you're in an indoor rain storm, simple crafts

*Pointers for parents at home: follow kids' interests, model words, parallel talk, label the home,  begin a sentence and wait for the child to finish it, reciprocal readings; ie The Very Hungry Catepillar

*Have social activities during storytimes-face to face or side by side

*Advise parents to make reading time a routine and ask questions to extend and build language

*Relate what reading to real life. Will help with theory of mind.

*Reading Techniques: Advise parents to ask questions like "What is this?" and to wait for a response. Then the parents repeat the response and add to it. They should congratulate kids on any attempt to answer.

*Consider doing outreach to parent/family support groups, ECSE (Early Childhood Special Ed), ECFE, Headstart. The impact will not necessarily be the numbers of people attending, but increasing the number of kids ready to read, sing, play, learn, read, and write

*Library staff should see who supports this cause and work with them to create story times and other programs

Some resources from Center for Engaging Autism:


* https://www.pinterest.com/engagingautism/

* http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2014/04/implementing-programs-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorder/

* http://www.webjunction.org/events/webjunction/serving-the-underserved-children.html

There are many, many, more on the web. Just do some searches on Sensory Storytimes, storytimes and autism and you will find many trainings and resources there to pick ideas from, people to e-mail with questions.

Feel free to contact me as a parent of a young man on the spectrum and someone who has been researching outreach to people who are differently-abled: erin.zolotukhin-ridgway@ci.stpaul.mn.us


1 comment:

Erin Z-R said...


More resources from the Center for Engaging Autism