Storytelling Tips for Parents of Kids with Learning Disabilities

Motivation is key in reading, follow the reader's interests.

Motivation is key in reading, follow the reader’s interests.

by Emma Sterland -

“Reading to anyone, regardless of their communication and cognitive skills, is integral to their development,” says Netbuddy‘s consultant speech and language therapist, Chris Wade.

“While you are reading Green Eggs & Ham, your child is developing their skills in expressive language, phonological awareness, vocabulary, attention and listening, comprehension, inference and social interaction.

“I’ve found the best tip for engaging children in reading is motivation. If your child has a diagnosis of autism and only wants to read about tube trains – let him! If you can’t find books that are motivating, take photos of things that interest your child and create your own story by writing short sentences underneath the pictures.”


Children and young people with autism spectrum disorder are often highly visual, so using photographs or other bright, engaging images – coupled with reading the story the same way each time – can serve to make a book a “safe haven”.

Netbuddy’s special educational needs specialist Tania Tirraoro says: “Repetition, not only of the same story but using the same intonation, helps children know what to expect and lets them join in. The way you read a story, and the words you stress are just as important as the actual words.”

Giving people plenty of opportunities to join in – either with repeated phrases or sound effects – or getting them to alternate turns at reading with you all helps to engage their interest.

If the person you are reading to has a communication impairment, try recording a single message on a recording device that they can press during the story. Or give them actions or other responses to make at certain points, such as signing or clapping.

Sensory stories

Sensory stories are useful for people who find it hard to engage with a book. They are told interactively using props such as music, wind fans, water and smelling salts to help people connect with the story.

Sensory stories work well for people with severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties or people on the autistic spectrum. They are also useful for children who have language delay or visual impairment.

Collecting the props for a sensory story can take a bit of planning, but the charity Bag Books provides a ready-made range of tactile and multi-sensory books, as well as offering story telling and training across the UK.

Reading to groups

If you are reading to a group of children or young people, think about where to tell the story. Not everyone can sit on the floor or a comfy chair.

Read more at Storytelling: Netbuddy’s top tipsl.

[Via The Guardian]

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