Day 6: Sharing Stories with the Child with Special Needs

31 days medal 400 by 400 redAs a teacher, I dreamed that I’d one day be able to share my love of books with my future children.  In fact, I started collecting children’s books from my first year in the classroom.  As a mommy-to-be, I read to my unborn baby several times a week.  As a new mom, I read to my son daily.  But, the older my little one gets, the less focused he’s becoming with books.  It breaks my heart some days that I cannot sit and cuddle with my child without him squirming to get out of my lap by page 2.

You have probably had the same dream for your child.  A rocking chair, some pillows, and a stack of books to go through in one afternoon.  But, your child might not be showing an interest in books at all. Or perhaps, his attention span isn’t enough to make it through to the end of the story.  Maybe, your child is more engrossed in chewing the books than sitting to hear you read them.  This post will guide you to help you build story-sharing into your day so that you too can relish in books like the families posted on Pinterest.

 

Reading with children Pinterest screenshot

You can find billions of ideas for reading with your child – assuming that’s an easy task. When sharing stories with your child with special needs, there are things you can do to warrant your child’s attention.

Why books and stories may be a challenge for children with special needs

Because listening to stories is primarily language-based, children with language and listening problems will have difficulty with this type of activity.  This is such a vast topic, and I will not pretend to cover everything there is to know about this area because it would take more than 31 days to do that alone.  Here are some of the specific reasons reading/ stories may be puzzling for your child.

  • Children with receptive language problems may not comprehend the words.
  • Children with attention deficit disorder may not be able to stay with the story long enough to fully interpret the message of the story.
  • Children with cognitive delays may not be able to process the word meanings.
  • Children with auditory discrimination issues may not be hearing the differences in some sounds, making listening to a story difficult.

Sharing Stories with the Child with Special Needs

Suggested adaptations/ modifications for sharing books and stories

  • Offer a variety of books.  While you will never force your child to sit and listen to a story, it’s very important to own a little collection of books and to have them readily available.  If your child tends to mouth the books, invest in fabric books and keep those out for him to play with. Store the others for when you are able to supervise.
  • Familiarize yourself with good/ developmentally appropriate books/ stories.  As an adult, you may be tempted to pick up a bundle of books at your local bookshop because there is a red tag sale that day.  I caution you to not to do that because you will find yourself with a bunch of books that are not at your child’s developmental level.  You are better off owning a handful of good quality, developmentally appropriate books than an assortment of doorstoppers.  Some of the best books to begin sharing are cumulative and repetitive books.  Think: This is the House that Jack Built (cumulative) and Green Eggs and Ham (repetitive).
  • Memorize stories for telling.  I cannot even begin to explain the connection that comes from telling a story without reading directly from the book.   You will need to do it to understand it.  In putting the book down, you are forced to look at your child and use your own words.  I like to memorize the general idea of the story, as well as the repetitive/ cumulative phrases, but I fill in the rest with my own narration and dialogue.  Without fail, I grab my son’s attention.  It’s magical to be able to carry a story in your heart because you can make it your go-to tool when you are out and about!
  • Retell the same story daily over a span of time.  When you own tons of books, you might feel tempted to read/ tell a new one each day.  The only way you can truly foster a love for stories is by keeping them familiar. Think about your personal favorites when you were growing up.  Didn’t you ask your parents to read them over and over again?  Over time, you will not only become a better storyteller (since you’re retelling the same story daily), but your child will learn language patterns and will begin to anticipate what comes next (among a slew of other early literacy skills).
  • Where you sit isn’t important.  In fact, you don’t need to be sitting at all.  You might decide that you want to designate a chair to storytelling, but if your child engages in a power struggle when you try to get him to join you – forget that chair.  I like to have my son close to me, but it’s not always possible.  Most days, I tell the stories while he’s playing on the floor.  He plays a little, he listens a little.  Sometimes, he doesn’t listen at all.  But, stubborn as I am, I keep going right through to the end while he continues playing.  What’s important is that he hears the familiar language over time.  Eventually, I can hold him in my lap before bed and recount that same story with him looking into my eyes – for the duration of the story!

reading chair - sharing stories with a child with special needs

This was the reading nook I had set-up thinking I’d be reading here daily with my little guy. Not even the best books on the shelf and the coziest rocking chair can be motivators if your child just won’t have it. Follow his lead and ditch the chair if you have to.

  • Use props.  You can tell the story using props as visuals.  You don’t need to get high-tech about it.  A stuffed toy, a doll, a few blocks and a basket can all make great props for your fabulous story.

reading props - sharing stories with the child with special needs

I keep a basket with props for the story I’m telling that week in a central location.

  • Include your usual system of communication in the story.  Whether your child uses ASL signs or PECs or other AAC, include those as you tell your story.  You will probably need to prepare ahead of time, but since you’re sharing the same story, you’ll use what you prepare for an extended amount of time.
  • Don’t ask questions.  For the love of all things good, do not interrupt a wonderful story with questions.  Just tell the story.  Let your child internalize it. Let him hear the tones and rhythms.  Let him see your facial expressions.  You wouldn’t want someone continuously asking you questions during a movie, would you?  At this point, you’re not testing for comprehension.  This is simply about exposure to books and stories so that your child will begin to understand that stories contain meaning.
  • Find audio books.  You can purchase (or download free) audio books that you can play at particular moments in your day.  I like to play them when I need a little break – like after lunch or dinner while cleaning up.  My son sits in his adapted seat and absorbs the rhythms of the language.  Be sure to listen to the recordings ahead of time as you don’t want surprises with sounds that might cause your child to fly off the handle.

Do you share books/ stories with your child?  What strategies work for you?

Early literacy is a huge category that cannot be fully discussed in one blog post. If you’d like a more in-depth look at helping your child gain an interest in stories, or selecting developmentally appropriate books – we can work together. 

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