Saturday, February 7, 2015

Completing the Circuit: Autism, Reading, and Adaptive Living Skills

One listserv, one librarian, and one question caused me to ponder the notion of completing a circuit among the nodes of autism, reading, and adaptive living skills.  The post that follows attempts a circuitous route towards the development of more meaningful, purposeful, and efficient book lists for autistic readers.  Please feel free to contact me by email to share your thoughts on my "electrical engineering."

Several months ago, a post on the alsc-l listserv came from a librarian with a question from one of her patrons, a mother with a young autistic son.  The mother was looking for books that would "teach him that it's okay to make mistakes."  The librarian was seeking suggestions of titles from her colleagues.

While I have spent much time on this blog describing characteristics of literature appropriate for autistic readers, I had yet to explore possible applications of such literature in the lives of neurodiverse children-- until this post.

As a result of mulling over many thoughts on designing book lists for autistic readers, I've determined that there are essentially two types: basic and expanded.  A basic book list features titles that effectively factor in the sensory, modality, and affinity needs of autistic readers (for more on the "3 E's of Autistic Literature," click here).  An expanded book list does everything that the basic book list does, plus it features titles that address needs in the area of adaptive living skills.

One title appeared repeatedly in suggestions to the librarian and, upon scrutiny, seems to most satisfy the requirements of making an "expanded" book list for autistic readers.  

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg meets the following criteria for placement on such a list:


Visual: Picture book bursting with color and textured images.
Tactile: Flaps, die-cuts, and crumpled paper texture.


A book most appropriate for visual thinkers, but it could playfully challenge pattern thinkers to analyze images and guess what form each "mistake" will take (this would work best on the first read).


A book for artists, paper engineers, and animal lovers.


Aims to address perfectionist/rigid behaviors and lessen performance anxiety.

Interestingly, Beautiful Oops! appears as a suggested title for library programming for school-age autistic children in Barbara Klipper's trail-blazing book, Programming for Children and Teens With Autism Spectrum Disorder, but no mention is made of its suitability supporting adaptive skills needs.  

Please see page 66 in Klipper's book for an excellent recreational activity, "Beautiful Oops! Making Accidental Art," designed by art educators Michelle Lopez, Jennifer Candiano, and Hana Joo.  Those interested in further exploration can also visit Barney Saltzberg's new website, Beautiful Oops!  A Program to Foster Creativity.

Touching back upon the topic of adaptivity, books can never be the single magic bullet to address challenges in developing self-help skills, community and social skills, independent living skills, functional/pragmatic communication skills, and safety skills.  Expanded autistic book lists would do well to include further strategies/suggestions for making gains in these adaptive skills areas.

A wonderful blog post to pair with Beautiful Oops!, for example, would be "It's Got To Be Perfect" by Bec Oakley of Snagglebox.  As a mother of autistic teens, and as someone on the Spectrum herself, Oakley provides a coherent context for perfectionist behavior with accompanying practical tips for mitigating it.

I want to conclude this post with the following infographic:

Through a process I call "rectangulation," I believe that librarians and children's literature experts can build the best possible book lists for autistic readers.  By considering the sensory, modality, affinity, and adaptivity aspects of books, librarians and others can ensure that recommended book lists for autistic children truly reflect the needs and experiences of neurodiverse readers.  

Only then will the circuit be complete!

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