April is an Autism Awareness month which is marked on the 2nd of April to raise awareness of autism and its implications to child development and learning at home and in the classroom. ‘It is said a child who reads, is a pleasure to teach.’ This is a fact but a challenge and a scare to most autistic children and if not well guarded a sensitive issue to most parents who have autistic children who can hardly read and write as any typical child. However, with proper guidance and counselling from my experience of teaching autistic children, I realized that any child has the ability to read and write, though it might be at a different pace and understanding or sense from that of a non-autistic child. Therefore, Autism Awareness month or Autism Acceptance month should focus on one of the most important aspect in teaching and learning, which is holistic literacy especially in its creative and holistic sense of being able to interact and interpret knowledge, skills and talents for inspiration and empowerment in exploring and exploiting talents and skills in a holistic and humane way for survival and success in life and business.
However, holistic literacy skills can be very different to an autistic learner. Yet, holistically, any autistic child has the ability to learn anything and more so if they are introduced to appropriate literacy resources that are appropriately designed for them to relate to all letters of the alphabet with interesting imagery that relates to their everyday life as in most of our functional literacy resources that are accessible at Functional Literacy Scripts Store on the Teachers Pay Teacher website. Remember any meaningful reading, be it with any typical child or autistic child starts from the familiar to the unfamiliar be it reading picture or words or doing whatever they might be expected to do both in class and at home. Therefore, saying that an autistic child cannot read, is limiting the whole sense and scope of how literacy should be taught to any child especially to a autistic children and how they explore knowledge and their environment for the development of their talents, skills and their creativity for survival and success in life and business. In my classroom experiences I never felt that these kinds of learners could not read or cannot do this and that, I made them to read the way I felt and knew they could and doing any other activities the best way they could according to their own literacy capabilities. This was either pointing at the pictures or words and smiling at the pictures and the words or drawing whatever could make sense in their own world of understanding the environment around them. You do not need to force these learners to understand pictures or words but allow them to explore their world and surrounding by exposing them to real life situations through pictures, letters and words. This should be systematically done from one familiar situation that is very routine and repetitive in their everyday life to the other as in most of our literacy products. That is the most holistic way of teaching literacy to most learners who struggle in recognition of pictures and words.
This reminds me of the brilliant boy I had in my class. He was nine. When he came to be dropped at school by the mom. The mom was scared of what would happen with him in class. However, with the little experience I had of handling such kind of kids, I had the courage to assure the mother that he was going to be okay. This made me to straight away feel that, there was nothing really wrong with the boy. All what he needed was to be introduced to the formal routine of learning to get settled in class and sit down and do his own activities like the rest. At first, he would resist and just got out of the classroom. The first few days, he would just run out of the classroom. I would firmly tell him to get back in class and tried to instill in him the correct classroom behavior, for he had a tendency of wanting to climb and jumping on the classroom furniture around. It was tough to establish some routine and sense of responsibility for himself, but I did it and brought him back to a routine of getting settled and getting focused to do the best he could with himself in class.
Therefore, with routine, patience and dedication, he slowly came to realize that a classroom is for learning to sit down and do what other learners are doing. His favourite activity was initially drawing and later on reading pictures and was slowing making him to relate words to actions in his everyday life. Though he could hardly say the words, but he could easily relate to the actions from the pictures. With further practice, he would improve each and every day. It is always wonderful to see autistic children grow, learn, and evolve in interaction with any learning material and environment that make them smile or laugh with some sense of realizing their ability to do anything like anyone else around them. In this classroom, I found myself growing and developing special skills that I never realized I had in all my thirty-five years of teaching non-autistic children at high school. The teaching enriched me in such a way that I realized that teaching is not just about scoring marks but helping any child to be able to help themselves in life which the holistic way of teaching and learning we bring out in most of our products. As you can see below here;
Therefore, literacy for me in any autistic child is all about the ability to look at letters and words and relate them to his/her everyday life in a holistic and humane way for them to understand their implication to the child the way they can relate to them like if it is car, then they might relate it to driving or seeing their mom or dad driving the car. One boy would even do sounds of driving a car each time he saw the picture of a car. For me, that was wonderful and interesting learning for him.
One thing, I realized with most of these autistic learners is that they are brilliant, with an amazing sense of humor of observing the mischief that goes around the classroom. One girl I had would even point at some of the naughty ones around. Though she could not speak, you could see that she interpreted everything in her own special way, the same way she is capable of interpreting any reading material you might give her. So, what literacy material do autistic children cope with without getting challenged and bored in the classroom. Above they are three examples of reading material you can introduce to them. You can even make it even very personal to the child and use action words that you child does in her/ his real life as an individual.
Therefore, make your learning material be.
- Very visual and appealing to all his/her senses.
- Realistic and very relatable to their everyday life.
- Simple, but inspiring them to smile and laugh at the images and pictures.
- Interesting to make them want to be like what is in the picture.
- Appealing to their sense of thinking and reasoning through following everyday life activities like, Oh, this is what I should do everyday when I wake up!
- Establish sense of responsibility and awareness of what they should be able to do around the home.
- Introduce them to relating pictures to words and then action.
- Encourage and inspire them to read by themselves by relating to pictures and words.
- Able to point at the words in relation to the pictures and action.
- Perform the action and relate it to the words, which will help in expanding their vocabulary for everyday instructions and responses.
Basically, these are all from my own experiences of volunteering at an Inclusive Educational institution and how I applied my own belief in holistic literacy that I have always tried to implement in my thirty -years of being a teacher at most disadvantaged high school learners I found myself teaching. Most of them who could hardly read and write properly to be understood and understand themselves. All that experience I gathered along the way is the brainchild of everything I am now slowly doing through; Holistic Literacy Academy, Functional Literacy Scripts at Uniquempower.com. If you have anything to contribute or contrary to the ideas presented in this article along these lines, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me through this blog at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Our motto for is always, ‘Be holistic and humane!’ in doing anything in life and business and here more so in teaching and learning especially for autistic teachers, parents and learners around the world.