Z is 11 years old and has just gone up to the secondary provision at an SEN school for children with speech and language difficulties, learning difficulties and autism.
She has always loved books.
"There are over 500,000 people with autism in the UK - that's 1 in 100. Together with their families, that's over two million people whose lives are touched by autism every single day." The National Autistic Society
What I have said about Z will not apply across the board with autistic children and I think it is important to make this clear - many people with autism do not have learning difficulties and are in fact more intelligent than average. However they will share some traits with Z that will not necessarily affect they way they read.
"Over one million people in England have learning disabilities." Public Health England
There are some more facts and figures about learning disability from Mencap here.
About Z's reading...
- She does not read by herself but will share a book with an adult, reading aloud. If it is a fairly short book she can do most of the reading herself but with longer books the adult would do most of the reading and she would follow the words on the page occasionally reading a paragraph or two out loud herself.
- She can become overwhelmed by large quantities of text on a page.
- Complex or flowery language will often confuse her. Concise, clear, direct sentences and paragraphs work best.
- She loves rhythmic language, verse and poetry. This sort of language seems to help keep her reading on track and encourages her to read more than she otherwise might.
- She has some memory difficulties. For her to follow what is going on story arcs and plot lines need to be clear, reinforced (perhaps by repetition) and not stretched out very much.
- She enjoys humour but jokes need to be direct and easy to understand or they might get in the way of the story. She can be very literal.
- She enjoys reading long words though she may not understand them. In general language needs to be very simple but a long word here and there seems to add interest for her especially if it is one that is fun to say out loud like, for instance, discombobulate.
- It is easier for her to follow a story when there are illustrations to reinforce and explain text. Illustrations that show what is going on in the story are very helpful to her and she enjoys looking at them. Illustrations not directly related to the text on the page can cause confusion.
- She enjoys comics and cartoons if they have a simple design and are easy to follow.
- She still loves the picture book format and this is what she will usually choose when given the opportunity. The picture books she chooses tend to have very little text and simple subject matter. This may be because developmentally she is much younger than her chronological age.
- She loves reading about science and stories about time travel.
- She can become worried or confused by emotions within a story or by the experiences of the characters. Unless these emotions and experiences are fully resolved within the story in a way she can understand she can sometimes continue to be troubled by them. It can be difficult for her, because of her language problems, to mention any worries brought up by a story.
- She responds well to stories that are positive and optimistic or (if there is a dilemma) when they finish in a way that is positive and clearly resolved.
Some books that Z loves:
- What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson
- Lucy Cousins’s Maisy books
- Chris Riddell’s books
- Dr Seuss’s books
- Todd Parr’s books
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney illustrated by Anita Jeram
She has loved a couple of longer books, both involving time travel, that we've read together:
In the case of the more complex books, such as Haunters, I will admit that she is probably not following most of the story but it doesn't seem to matter because she is fascinated by the subject. In other words this list shows that books can be inclusive in a variety of ways.
Inclusivity is very important to us here at Words & Pictures! Thank you very much, Amanda, for this very interesting insight into how your daughter' enjoys story - it's wonderful that she does!
Amanda Lillywhite is a freelance illustrator from London. She created the wonderful webcomic Duck & Bear, a warm, humorous story about a writer and an illustrator. She is a member of the Words & Pictures team.