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Books – Connecting Beyond the Pages - August 2009

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Books – Connecting Beyond the Pages

By: Tara McClintick

Using enticing books with children is so exciting because the benefits can extend well beyond the content on the pages. The most wonderful benefits are the social connections that can be made with children by using books. In that regard, the potential to expand from anything the child finds interesting within a particular book is unlimited!

This is an especially useful perspective when working with a child who has significant relating challenges, such as a child diagnosed with autism. A child who is not consistently engaging in interactions with trusted adults may not be able to follow a whole story and/or an adult led activity yet. Instead of getting discouraged by the child’s inability to comprehend the agenda, adults can make engaging easier for the child by following the child’s lead. Try building on any part of a book that appeals to the child. If you notice a particular image, phrase, or other portion of the book that catches the child’s attention, build on that as your communicative point. Whenever a child wants to repeat the same section over and over, you have a window to connect with the child right where he/she is! Once you discover something the child is interested in and motivated to attend, there are many ways to build connections.

Using books simply as starting points for building interaction is effective for many reasons:
  • Instead of trying to distract or redirect the child from something he/she is interested in, you are using that motivation as a starting point.
  • You are increasing the child’s comfort level with new ideas and information by building from a point of interest from which he/she is already familiar and comfortable.
  • You are genuinely relating to the child’s interest and motivation in fun ways making social connections more “visible” and building trust.
  • You are modeling how to attend and respect another person’s ideas and interests.
  • By paying attention to his/her verbal and non-verbal cues, you are allowing the child to teach you how to connect with him/her.

Though my son is extremely challenged in relating and considered on the severe end of the autism spectrum, his ability to tune in has improved enormously by using books in this way. His comprehension and expressive language skills have improved a great deal as well. It takes significant persistence (trial, error and repeating ideas over time) and creativity, but it is worth the effort. Here are ten examples of how to build interactions from one part of a book that the child seems to enjoy:
  1. Open another book (possibly building up to several) with a similar page/photo/concept to look at parallel with the child. After several play sessions of joining my child in silently looking at drawings of clocks, he finally clued me into his fascination by saying “propeller”. I had never thought about how the hands of a clock spin around like a propeller! From that point, it was easy to extend his interest using all kinds of objects and photos of other propeller-like items such as helicopters, airplanes, pinwheels, fans. The increase in eye contact and language was amazing, simply because we were building off of a topic he was excited about.
  2. Build a simple game from a favorite page – cover parts with post-it notes; make several photocopies to draw on, make different colors, or hide about the room; etc.
  3. Use sound effects or voices to animate the scene.
  4. Print out the child’s favorite characters and/or photos of familiar people, laminate with clear contact paper, and build on the scene with these. Another option is using small toys of favorite characters or objects, such as action figures.
  5. Search free computer images and print out similar (and/or contrasting) pictures to display, compare, and discuss around the favorite page.
  6. Make up a silly song or dance that captures the spirit of the favorite page.
  7. Use tracing paper to see if the child will let you show how to recreate parts of the image, or simply try to draw a new version of the image freestyle.
  8. Introduce a puppet who LOVES that same page of the book.
  9. Use plastic shape outlines to frame parts of the page.
  10. Write descriptive words to add to parts of the page.

The possibilities are endless. Usually it is a matter of experimenting to see what the child enjoys to build motivation. Start by enthusiastically trying one simple extension, and observe the child’s response. If the child will not share his/her book, you can look at your own in a parallel fashion. Often the child will initially reject first extension ideas, and it is important to respect this rejection for that moment. You can always try again next time. As trust and familiarity is built, however, so does the child’s comfort level. The “flops” frequently become requested activities, and additional starting points to build from AH-HA! These social connections are the starting points for INTERACTION, so important for development and growth!

This Month's Featured Author: Tara McClintick

Tara McClintick is an early childhood/special education teacher who is passionate about child development. She is the mother of two boys – Derek (16 yrs) and Jake (13 yrs). Just after the age of one, Jake began exhibiting all the signs of autism, and was later diagnosed on the severe end of the spectrum. Using the home-based Son-Rise Program®, she has worked one-on-one with her youngest son, as well as trained numerous volunteers on how to connect with him. She now creates unique picture books designed to promote awareness, thinking, interaction, and language development. For more information please visit

Tags: August 2009 Newsletter Autism OT SLP Article Vocabulary Literacy