Q I'm a teaching assistant working with children in a special school (aged 9-11), many of whom have autistic spectrum disorder, with a range of abilities in language, reading and writing. How can I make literacy lessons more meaningful and enjoyable?
A I think you need to consider reading and writing in different ways.
There are the formal skills of being able to decode words in reading, and the development of writing and spelling skills - for example writing words and sentences - which may take a shorter or longer time depending on an individual child's strengths.
Many children with autism gain pleasure in the development of these skills and may develop some of them early, but you are right to think that there are many ways of extending meaning and enjoyment.
Skilled teachers of children with autism closely observe a child's interests and build on these by finding books and stories that reflect them.
One valuable activity is bookmaking. Photographs of the children and the rest of the class doing different activities, and photographs of friends, family and people who work in school, can be put into books and you can create captions together.
These classroom-made books can be read over and over again and give enormous pleasure. With a digital camera the possibilities for this are endless. Also, if you have access to a scanner, you can scan favourite characters from stories to put together with photos of children to make up your own versions of books and stories, for example, Freddie and the Three Bears.
You can also use drama in the classroom to enact stories or parts of stories, using techniques such as freeze-framing to make stories more meaningful.
I know teachers and teaching assistants who have developed stories through story boxes or sacks, in which you can bring together real artifacts and small toys to illustrate all kinds of story. These are wonderful for encouraging spoken language within the structure of a well-known story.
* Please email questions to SNExtra@tes.co.uk or write to TES Extra for Special Needs, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London ElW lBX.
Neither writer can correspond with readers.