Benefits of Bedtime Stories
Reading to children is important, but for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), bedtime stories work overtime. Reading to your child can serve as a vital building block for your child's communication, reading, and social skills. It's fun, simple, and easy to get started.
Why it is important to read to your child?
Reading is an important life skill, and the earlier your child masters it, the easier life will be for them. Reading to your child gives them great opportunities to work on their reading muscles themselves in a supportive, shared environment. Even if your kids struggle to sit still or pay attention, research has shown that the individual attention from you, the steady day-to-day routine of reading a bedtime story, and the mental exercise involved in interactive storytelling can all work wonders for children. Children who initially resist the idea of bedtime stories often come around and have lots of fun with the activity once they've settled into the routine.
The advantages of bedtime stories are numerous and well researched. Books can help your child master their language skills, help them practice listening and comprehension, and give you a private, risk-free platform to analyze basic social skills and everyday situations with your child. Children can practice empathizing with characters in stories and can ask questions in a safe environment. With some work and investment from both you and your child, bedtime stories can have a remarkable and positive impact on your child's development.
Master language skills
Reading can expose your child to words, phrases, ideas, and sentence structures that you might not normally use. A University of California study found that parent-child conversations were mostly limited to about 5,000 common English words. By contrast, children's books were three times more likely to include uncommon vocabulary. By reading to your child and introducing these unusual words, you'll help them build a large vocabulary as well as the skills they need to deal with unfamiliar words and decipher their meanings through context.
Additionally, many children with ASD are incredibly visual learners. Talking alone might not be enough to solidify the meaning of words for your child's learning style. By pairing words with both pictures and letters, visual learners can take in information via their preferred method, helping them to learn faster and remember concepts better.
Improve listening skills
Communication can be a tough skill to master. Reading to your child creates a supportive environment where your child can practice the key skill of listening, with the ability to ask questions, visual aids to help their understanding, and an infinite ability to go back and hear the same sentence or paragraph again and again. Concepts, ideas, or words that your child might not understand on their own become digestible through pictures, context, and plenty of explanation. Especially if your child struggles with verbal learning, bedtime stores can serve as a necessary partial step to practice key comprehension and listening skills.
Learn about Facial Expressions and Body Language Development
Reading to your child involves more than just your voice. By modulating your facial expression and body language with the actions in the story, you can provide meaningful examples of these concepts in action. Children with ASD often struggle interpreting what expressions and body language mean or deciding what to do with those meanings once they've been decoded.
In addition to implicitly demonstrating facial expressions, you can also use storytelling as explicit practice with your child. Ask them to watch your face as you read and practice interpreting your expressions together. You can stop and review key information and ask your child to get involved and make the expressions themselves. The extra nightly practice can make a big difference when it comes to helping your child develop these skills.
Understand everyday activities
Just like with facial expressions, everyday activities can be an unexplained mystery to children. It's often hard to answer your child's endless string of questions about the things you're doing as you're doing them. Things like cooking, driving, and shopping all require a lot of attention from you and are time-sensitive, preventing you from taking a ten or fifteen-minute break to stop and explain what's going on.
Bedtime stories, by contrast, can be paused indefinitely. They serve as an excellent vehicle for the exploration and explanation of common activities. Picture books contain expressive visual aids that you can use to help your explanations, while the existence of words can help visual learners anchor ideas to something that's not a sound. This is a powerful technique. Therapists often make their picture book analogs, called "social schedules" or "visual stories" to help discuss common everyday activities with children. While your picture books might not be quite as purposeful, they're just as effective at giving you a platform to help your child understand common activities and situations.
Empathy is a tough skill to master for anyone, especially children with ASD. Stories provide models that children can use as examples of emotive states, displays, and responses. Modern books that are focused on themes of autism can be especially helpful here, as authors will deliberately provide situations that your child can easily relate to.
While stories alone can have a positive impact, it's a great idea to stop as you read and check in on your child's emotional understanding. Ask your children how they think various characters feel. Discuss how your child could know how a person is feeling that way in real life and what tools they should use when they interact with people displaying similar emotional cues. Talk about what your child can and should do when they're feeling that way themselves. Just like with other types of understanding, stopping and conversing with your child transforms the activity of reading into something much more powerful and educational.
Children aren't always easy to talk to. By participating in an activity with a central focus, it's much easier to get both you and your kid on the same page. You've got a shared goal of getting through the story, understanding what's going on, and having fun. Stories expose you and your child to ideas and topics that might not otherwise come up, giving you a chance to discuss things with your child and learn more about them.
As you learn about what your child likes and dislikes, be sure to tailor your choice of books and stories to fit their desires. If your child likes swimming and elephants, for example, you'll be able to choose books that focus on those subjects. If they dislike spiders, you'll be able to prevent future friction by avoiding books with arachnids in the future. There are lots of children's books to choose from, giving you an incredible ability to customize bedtime stories in a way that keeps both you and your kid happy.
Read our blog: The Best Books for Children under the Spectrum & Neurodiverse Kids and learn more about the importance of reading for kids under the spectrum.