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Tips for reading to children with special needs

Tips for reading to children with special needs

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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KEARNS — Children with special needs like autism often love to read and to be read to, but knowing the best way to get started can be intimidating.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, senior librarian at the Salt Lake County Kearns Library, runs a sensory storytime for young children with special needs. These are her tips and ideas for parents who want to read at home with their children who have special needs.

1. Keep it visual

Children with autism spectrum disorders are very visual learners. Many have a hard time focusing on verbal elements, so add visuals whenever possible. Rogers-Whitehead suggests that when reading a book, it's best to include some kind of visual aid, like a flannel board, supplemental pictures or objects that connect to the story, like a ball or car, etc.

2. Keep it moving

Just like other children, kids with special needs have short attention spans. Remove other distractions from the room first. Then keep the reading engaging, interesting and fast-paced.

Local library sensory storytimes

Kearns Library: Program aimed at preschool ages, but all ages welcome. Call 801-943-4636 for times and more details.

Kearns Library and Carrie Rogers-Whitehead will also be starting a school-age sensory program (for older kids and teens) in January, the first program of its kind in Utah. For more details email Rogers-Whitehead at

Riverton Library: Call 801-943-4636 for times and details.

Orem Library: Call 801-229-7050 for times and details.

3. Keep it short and simple

In conjunction with a fast pace, also keep story time short. Choose a book or books with few words or paraphrase longer text. Avoid reading verbatim. Add your own inflections, point out different parts of the illustrations, sing and allow for spontaneous interaction.

Online resources

4. Keep cool

If you remain calm, it’s easier for your child to as well. If the child needs a rest or a break, allow it and come back to the book later. Don’t get frustrated and don’t worry about a set schedule or goal to complete a number of pages or books.

5. Keep it fun

Above all else, Rogers-Whitehead emphasizes that reading with your child should be fun — for both of you. Add a craft that corresponds to the book, something simple that focuses on the senses. Sing, talk, laugh, play and read.

Suggested Reading

Here are some of Rogers-Whitehead’s favorite books to read with children with special needs:

  • "The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Napping House” and “Piggies” by Audrey Wood — all have great rhythm and repetition.
  • "Tuesday” by David Wiesner and “Tall” by Jez Alborough — wordless picture books.
  • “Dog’s Colorful Day” by Emma Dodd — great for interaction and participation.
  • Can You Make a Scary Face?” and “Rhyming Dust Bunnies” by Jan Thomas — interactive.
  • “How Big Is It?” by Ben Holman — nonfiction, great for “literal thinkers.”
  • “How Much Is A Million?” by David Schwartz — another great nonfiction.

Are you a parent of a child with special needs and have advice on reading for other parents? Share it on the comment board.


About the Author: Teri Harman -----------------------------

Teri Harman, author and book enthusiast, writes a biweekly column for and also contributes book-related segments to Studio 5. Her debut novel, "Blood Moon," comes out June 22, 2013. Find her online at*


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