This evening on Bookworms, David Curnow and I discussed books for children on the Autism Spectrum and you can listen to the Soundcloud here.
I’m not an expert in the field of autism, these are simply books that, over many years now, I’ve kept a list of as I’ve been asked so many times for books on this topic. Some of the books have been recommended to me by learning support specialists I have worked with, some are suggestions from parents and some are ones I’ve seen at children’s literature conferences. Specialists in the area of autism will have further suggestions, and many suggestions for parent education books – my list focusses on literature that may assist young people on the Autism Spectrum to navigate the world with a little more ease.
I firmly believe that books are perfect for discussing the big issues in life and I have spoken on many occasions about books which support children who are experiencing grief, family breakdown, childhood illness, dyslexia, allergies and dealing with the jungle that is the school playground!
Children on the Autism Spectrum may experience difficulty reading social cues and situations, reacting appropriately and with empathy to situations and people, and sharing their thoughts and feelings. Reading books aloud allows a child to hear the intonations of the spoken word and is a time when they may be relaxed enough to ask questions and learn more about the world around them. Many children on the Autism Spectrum need routine, and a daily reading routine may be of benefit. For example, reading may come part of the bedtime routine. Work with your child’s specialists and discuss how reading may help with social skills, new activities and transitions.
Tips for Sharing Books with Children on the Autism Spectrum
- Work with books which have illustrations of babies and people’s faces. This can help your child reading emotions of the faces of friends and family.
- Read aloud with passion, expression, warmth and enthusiasm! This applies to reading aloud with all children, but most especially with children on the Autism Spectrum.
- Repetition is key with all young children. For children on the Autism Spectrum reading the same book over and over again may help them to learn new language and communication skills.
- Use books to explore cause and effect scenarios with children on the Autism Spectrum. Look at the illustrations of children interacting with and sharing toys, taking turns in play and interacting with others. Look at their body language and together role play the actions of the characters in the book. Role play can help to develop the skills needed for social relationships, language and communication.
The titles below are not handbooks for parents or teachers, these are fiction or non-fiction stories of people on the Autism Spectrum and their families. I saw the story of Tim Sharp (below), better known as ‘Laser Beak Man’ on television recently and have added the book by his mother Judy to my pile of Christmas holiday reading – such an inspiring story!
‘A Double Shot of Happiness’ When Judy Sharp took her three-year-old son Tim to a pediatric specialist she was told that his autism was so severe he would never be able to communicate with her, talk or learn to live in a normal household. The advice at the time was that he would be better off in an institution. More than twenty years later, Tim is a world-famous artist, whose joyful paintings and drawings involving the super hero he created, Laser Beak Man, have been exhibited around the world. Laser Beak Man’s appeal is so widespread it’s gone on to inspire, among other things, an eight part animated children’s TV series and an off-Broadway play in New York. Ultimately a triumphant story of love and hope that will inspire and delight everyone who reads it.
‘Smile’ by Roberta Grobel Intrater. This is part of the popular Baby Faces series and has photos of multicultural babies and toddlers and a brief, rhyming text. The others in the series include ‘Eat’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Hugs and Kisses’.
‘Point to Happy’ By Miriam Smith and Afton Fraser. Designed for children on the autism spectrum, Point to Happy combines a picture book and a pointer to create a breakthrough in reaching children who communicate best through pictures. Point to happy. Point to sad. Point to hug. Give me a hug. The parent reads, the child points. It turns reading into a joyful, shared experience. Dozens of friendly photographs are compelling to look at and easy to understand. The text is clear and direct. By pointing to the pictures in the book-moods, activities, everyday objects, the rituals of going to bed and getting ready in the morning-children will learn to convey their wants and needs, their experiences and, most importantly, their feelings. The simple device of the pointer, and using it-the motor task of holding and pointing, again and again-is an effective tool to help a child focus.
‘The Great Big Book of Feelings’ by Mary Hoffman. The book opens with the question: “How are you feeling today?” And this leads on to a spread by spread presentation of a wide range of feelings, taken from the following: Happy; Sad; Excited; Bored; Interested; Embarrassed; Lonely; In need of solitude; Looking forward to something; Confused; Hurt; Scared; Relieved; Angry; Calm; Shy; Confident; Jealous; Worried; Amazed/Surprised; Lucky; Cheerful; and Playful. The approach and design will follow The Great Big Book of Families, with lots of different children in lots of different situations, brief text captions and questions and plenty of humour to make sure the book is fun, as well as dealing with a serious and important subject – human feelings.
‘Trevor, Trevor’ by Diane Twachtman-Cullen. Diane Twachtman-Cullen uses metaphor to tell the story of Trevor, a primary school aged child whose problems with social relationships suggest a form of autism. Unfortunately, like so many children with social interaction problems, it is not Trevor’s strengths that his classmates notice, but rather his differences. A caring teacher helps him to share his puzzles completing skills with his classmates, who start to change their attitude towards him. Good one for children from preschool to middle primary.
‘All About My Brother’ by Sarah Peralta. This book comes from the heart of a little girl (Sarah is eight years old) who has grown up with and who, with her parents, has been involved in helping her younger brother with autism to learn. The book is a testament to the parental support that has fostered a strong positive relationship between Sarah and her brother, with the result that even at a very young age, Sarah has become a strong advocate for Evan and other children with autism.
‘I See Things Differently’ by Pat Thomas. Psychotherapist and counsellor Pat Thomas puts her gentle, yet straightforward approach to work in this new addition to Barron’s highly acclaimed A First Look At…Series. This book will help children understand what autism is and how it affects someone who has it. A catalyst for discussion that will help children to better understand and support autistic classmates or siblings. The story line is simple and easily accessible to younger children, who will learn that exploring the personal feelings around social issues is a first step in dealing with them.
‘Kevin Thinks’ by Gail Eileen Watts. Kevin thinks his mum is ridiculous for saying that he is wasting the sunshine and fresh air. As if it would ever run out! Kevin thinks you should always do up the top button. Why else is it there? Kevin thinks his computer brain is awesome because he can remember lots and lots of important facts about outer space, computers and football. Above all, Kevin thinks you should always tell the truth. Kevin Thinks is the story of a boy with Asperger Syndrome (AS) who sees the world a little…differently! His quirky observations will strike a chord with all those who are familiar with AS, from his special interest in outer space and his aversion to itchy clothes, to his tendency to say exactly what he thinks, regardless of the consequences. Adorable and insightful, Kevin Thinks is a fun read for children aged 4+ and their parents.
‘Dolphin’s Dance’ by Jutta Gotze. “You can’t see it.” Dad cleared his throat. He was standing in front of Ali’s class, about to give a talk. “It isn’t like measles or mumps. It’s not like when you break your leg, and it’s definitely not catching, like when you get a cold.” Ali listened, her fingers crossed. If her father couldn’t make them understand, nobody could. And then nobody would know what it felt like to have a brother like Max, who is always dancing out of Ali’s reach. Perfect for upper primary readers who have a sibling on the autism spectrum.
‘The Playground is Like the Jungle’ by Shona Innes. The Playground is like the Jungle was written with a view to opening young minds to the rich variety of human personalities that exist in their world. Readers are encouraged to take time to observe the behaviours and moods of others and to make wise and safer choices about play mates. The strategies promoted encourage tolerance and acceptance of interpersonal different and wise choices with respect to interpersonal safety.
‘Friendship is Like a Seesaw’ by Shona Innes. Friendship is Like a Seesaw explores the ups and downs that occur in friendships, or indeed, in many other kinds of relationships. This book acknowledges that even the healthiest of friendships can have their tricky moments.
‘My Friend has Autism’ by Amanda Doering Tourville. “My friend Zack has a disability called autism. But that doesn’t matter to us. We talk about airplanes, build models, and enjoy hanging out at each other’s house. I’m glad Zack is my friend!”
‘The Reason I Jump’ by Naoki Higashida. Writen when the author was only thirteen, this remarkable book provides rare insight into the often baffling behaviour of autistic children. Using a question and answer format, Naoki explains things like why he talks loudly or repeats the same questions, what causes him to have panic attacks, and why he likes to jump. He also shows the way he thinks and feels about his world – other people, nature, time and beauty, and himself. Abundantly proving that people with autism do possess imagination, humour and empathy, he also makes clear how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding. This book gives an exceptional chance to enter the mind of another and see the world from a strange and fascinating perspective.
‘My Life as an Alphabet’ by Barry Jonsberg. The author never names Candice as being on the Autism Spectrum and this is something I particularly love about this STUNNING book. Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life. Laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully touching, My Life as an Alphabet is a delightful novel about an unusual girl who goes to great lengths to bring love and laughter into the lives of everyone she cares about.
‘Inside Asperger’s Looking Out’ Through engaging text and full-color photographs, this book shows neurotypicals how Aspies see and experience the world. Each page brings to light traits that many Aspies have in common, from sensitive hearing and an aversion to bright lights and strong smells, to literal thinking and difficulty understanding social rules and reading body language and facial expressions. At the same time, the book highlights and celebrates the unique characteristics that make those with Asperger’s Syndrome special. This is the perfect introduction to the world of Aspies, told from their own perspective, for the people in their lives: including family, friends, and classmates. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome will also appreciate this book for the way it shares their own singular perspectives on life.
‘All Cat’s Have Aspergers’ All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome takes a playful look at Asperger Syndrome (AS), drawing inspiration from the feline world in a way that will strike a chord with all those who are familiar with AS. Delightful colour photographs of cats bring to life familiar characteristics such as sensitive hearing, scampering at the first sign of being stroked, and particular eating habits. Touching, humorous and insightful, this book evokes the difficulties and joys of raising a child who is different and leaves the reader with a sense of the dignity, individuality, and potential of people with AS. This engaging book is an ideal, gentle introduction to the world of AS.
‘The Blue Bottle Mystery’ This is a warm, fun-filled fantasy story for children with a difference: the hero is Ben, a boy with Asperger Syndrome. When Ben and his friend Andy find an old bottle in the school yard, they little realize the surprises about to be unleashed in their lives. Bound up with this exciting mystery is the story of how Ben is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and how he and his family deal with the problems and joys that come along.
‘Lisa and the Lacemaker’ When Lisa discovers a derelict hut in her friend Ben’s backyard, she delights in exploring the remnants of an era long gone. Imagine her surprise when Great Aunt Hannah moves into a nursing home nearby, and reveals that once she was a servant in those very rooms. The old lady draws Lisa into the art of lace making and through the criss-crossing of threads, Lisa is helped to understand her own Asperger Syndrome. But Great Aunt Hannah also has a secret and now it is up to Lisa to confront the mysterious Lacemaker and put the past to rest.
‘It’s Raining Cat’s and Dogs’ The English language can be extremely confusing and illogical, especially for people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who interpret meaning in a very literal way. Why should an announcement that cats and dogs are falling from the sky indicate heavy rain? And what have chickens got to do with being a coward? It’s Raining Cats and Dogs is a witty and stylish insight into the mind of someone with an ASD. It beautifully illustrates why people with ASDs have problems understanding common phrases and idioms that others accept unquestioningly as part of everyday speech. The quirky drawings will entertain and inspire those on the spectrum, giving them the confidence to recognise figures of speech, feel less alienated and even use idioms themselves. The drawings will form instantly memorable references for those with ASDs to recall whenever they need to and will be helpful for anyone curious to understand the ASD way of thinking.
‘The Golden Hat’ Doctors told Margret Dagmar that her son Keli, who lives with a severe form of non-verbal autism, would never be able to communicate; she was told that he would be best off locked in an institution for the rest of his life. Keli now composes beautiful and deeply moving poetry; one poem Keli wrote is called “The Golden Hat,” which describes a magical hat that enables an autistic boy to communicate. Inspired by Keli’s poem, Kate Winslet developed a way to raise awareness and funds to support autism outreach. Her project asks friends to pass a hat-chosen from Kate’s closet-from one to another, after they’ve each taken a self-portrait wearing it. The list of those photographs includes Angelina Jolie, Steven Spielberg, Oprah, Sting, Daniel Craig, and many more.
‘Asperkids’ As a parent, a teacher and an Aspie herself, Jennifer O’Toole provides the definitive insider’s view of Asperger syndrome. She shows how to help children on the spectrum by understanding how they think and by exploiting their special interests to promote learning. Her strategies work because she thinks like the children that she teaches. This exciting book is full of effective and fun ways of engaging with children with Asperger syndrome. Jennifer explains how theory of mind difficulties create the need for concrete forms of communication, and provides original methods to inspire imagination through sensorial experiences. In particular she reveals the untapped power of special interests, showing how to harness these interests to encourage academic, social and emotional growth. Affirming that different doesn’t mean defective, this book offers the insight and guidance that parents, educators, and other professionals need to connect with the Asperkids in their life and get them excited about learning.