Helping families improve early literacy skills for children on the autism spectrum

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Cute little boy is reading book while sitting at table, indoor shoot
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A shared book reading intervention to help language and literacy skills in preschoolers on the autism spectrum has been successfully delivered by Griffith University and Autism CRC.

This eight-week intervention pilot study took place in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, and sought to develop early spoken language and emergent literacy skills.

It investigated whether a home-based shared book reading intervention would help facilitate these skills in children under six who had not yet started school and was led by Autism CRC project leader and Griffith senior lecturer Dr Marleen Westerveld from the university’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“Children who are not on the autism spectrum often learn these early literacy skills through experiences with books. Children on the spectrum do not seem to be reaping the rewards of such experiences to the same extent as their peers, so we initiated the shared book reading intervention to see if we could help address this”, she says.

Those participating in the study had to be able to focus on a book for five minutes, regularly share in book reading with parents and not currently attending any other shared book reading programs.

Significant changes

“The intervention resulted in significant changes in parent-child book reading behaviours with our most prominent finding being that parents and children engaged with the books for significantly longer periods following intervention,” says Dr Westerveld.

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“Moreover, parents increased their use of book-specific language and showed more explicit use of meaning-related language, such as discussing the characters of the story.

“In turn, the children became more talkative and used a wider variety of words. All improvements were maintained eight weeks following the intervention – in fact, children continued to improve their word variety and vocabulary.”

Comments from parents involved in the study included:

“We now don’t just read the story we explore it. We talk about what the words are telling us and also what is in the pictures and the story behind the story.”

“Taking part of this reading intervention study has been a great way for me to learn new ways to read stories to the kids and make them interesting. It has also helped to develop habits like talking about what words mean, characters, setting, problem, how this makes the characters feel and what they plan to do about it then how they feel at the end.”

“Our reading session has been more fun and my son is learning to interact better. So I am very happy with the little steps we’re making.”

A speech pathologist provided the shared book reading intervention to parents over eight weeks with one training session and four fortnightly follow-up visits, and phone calls on alternative weeks.

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Parents recorded videos of shared book reading sessions each week with individualised feedback provided at follow-up visits.

“To investigate changes in parent and child behaviours, the team asked parents to video themselves sharing a book with their child prior to, immediately, and 8 weeks following intervention.

“Following intervention, we found that there was a significant increase in time spent sharing the book for the intervention group only – from 4.5 minutes to 7.5 minutes post-intervention,” says Dr Westerveld.

“We also found post-intervention that parents showed a significant increase in book-related language compared to the control group. Parents also increased their use of story-related language.

“Children whose parents participated in the intervention became more talkative, and used a wider variety of words when sharing books with their parents.

“All parents were satisfied or extremely satisfied with all aspects of the intervention and reported it changed the way they shared books with their children.”

“The shared book reading intervention is one of many projects being delivered by Autism CRC in collaboration with its Participants and Partners to promote the wellbeing of people on the spectrum across the lifespan,” says Andrew Davis, CEO of Autism CRC.

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“Autism CRC’s vision is to see autistic people empowered to discover and use their diverse strengths and interests. Shared-book reading plays a vital role in children’s emergent literacy development and contributes to reading success down the track – the importance of which should not be overlooked,” Mr Davis says.

(Source: Griffith University)

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Date Created: June 28, 2018