THE BLOG

How to Help Autistic Kids With English

20/03/2014 10:42 GMT | Updated 19/05/2014 10:59 BST

As a private tutor, I often work with autistic spectrum children in English. Many of them 'don't get' English. They might struggle to understand what they're supposed to do for homework and can become so frustrated they give up. Though they may not be dyslexic, they might not read.

If this sounds like your child, here are some easy tips based on what's worked for me. For severe cases, get help using links from The National Autistic Society Website.

Build Confidence

Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Confidence is precious. Don't damage it by getting worked up about literacy when your child may have astonishing - even scary - talents in other directions. Mainstream education is one-size fits all, and sometimes, it doesn't.

Feed Their Passion

Find out what your child's passion is and help them grow it. Help them start a research project, blog or show them how to create an iBook for the iPad using iBooks Author. These are fantastic real-life skills. Let them read and write about something they're passionate about. Blogs are great because they let you add images, videos, links and other whizzy bits as skill permits. This often appeals to the desire to collect and catalogue information. Perhaps you could do a research project with your child? Wordpress and Blogger are easy to use and both are free. If you have an iPad, you could make a book on iBooks author. Bookry widgets let you add in games and puzzles for free.

What to Read

Autistic kids love facts, and can develop amazing levels of knowledge. Try encyclopaedias, factual magazines like How it Works Magazine, BBC History Magazine or National Geographic. Wikipedia can be a good resource, though it's often tricky to understand, and dare I say, not always totally accurate. Some maths or physics-focussed students enjoy Sherlock Holmes as the short stories are puzzles that grab their interest. There is a great BBC audiobook series of this starring Clive Merrison and Michael Williams. Any audiobook can be a great way into literature, but literature can annoy autistic students because it's not true, and too ambiguous for their taste.

Extra Time in Exams

Rule out dyslexia and dyspraxia. Is there a mechanical issue with writing, with spelling or with short term memory? If so, your child could be entitled to extra time in exams. They may also be given extra support for autism depending on the diagnosis.

Get SMART Targets from Class Teachers

Ask teachers if they can supply three specific (SMART) targets for each piece of assessed work, so your child is confident they know exactly what's expected. This can be a particular issue for all students in English, which is naturally somewhat vague, but it's a lot more of a problem for autistic kids. You could even ask your child's teacher for examples of good work in English so you and your child can see what good work should look like. Get examples of great essays on my site, here. Explore all resources here.

Can't Write or Won't Write?

For autistic kids, creative writing can be a trial, but it can be fun if you explore it together. Grab 25 Awesome Ideas for Creative Writing here. Talk to them about their ideas, asking clean questions like: 'what then?' and 'why?' Your child may struggle with character feelings, so choose an action-based story instead, or one where they explore history, space, science or technology with a simple plot.

Books for Autistic Kids

You might like to read Mark Haddon's excellent book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with an autistic main character. If you feel it's suitable, maybe your child would too. Other autistic spectrum students I've worked with really loved this book. It's incredibly tense and very moving with great insights into how it feels to be autistic.

Books to Read Together

However old your child, consider reading a story to them. For children who don't like to read, this can be a lovely way to spend time together and give them a warm fuzzy feeling about reading. For girls up to age twelve, Pippi Longstocking is a sweet, anarchic book (and not too long). As they get older, they may enjoy The Hunger Games or anything by Jacqueline Wilson. For younger boys, try Anthony Horowitz's Alex Ryder series, moving on to Fleming's James Bond novels as they get older. Get more ideas for books to read here.

Melanie Kendry is an outstanding Oxford Graduate private tutor in English. Contact her at englishtutorhome@hotmail.co.uk Get more free resources, including A* model essays to help students in English from age 11-18, in 11+, Common Entrance, GCSE, IGCSE, A-Level and IB at her site ATeacherWrites.com