By Dan Coulter
I've long been an advocate of helping children with Asperger Syndrome and autism master social skills. Today, we'll look at another important skill: reading.
Helping your child learn to love reading is a reliable way of encouraging his or her future success. While learning social skills will always be important for quirky kids who don't pick up common human interactions intuitively, reading helps those kids become more capable and interesting. And others tend to be more willing to overlook quirkiness in people who are capable and interesting.
What kinds of books should you encourage your child to read? Whatever he or she likes. Author Neil Gaiman recently gave a lecture to The Reading Agency (a British society promoting reading) titled, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.” In this talk, Gaiman described telling his 11 year-old daughter that because she was into R.L. Stine books, she should read Stephen King's “Carrie.” The result: “Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King's name is mentioned.”
While other children of that age would eat up Stephen King, Gaiman makes a good point about the perils of trying too hard to steer our children toward books that we like or that we think they should read.
For my money, the best thing we can do is read a variety of books to our younger children and let them discover what they love for themselves. My wife and I read books on lots of subjects to both our children.
My adult son, Drew, who has Asperger Syndrome, locked onto mythology at an early age. His reading passions ranged from Edith Hamilton's “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes,” to fiction and non-fiction about George Lucas's “Star Wars.” These books had such a hold on him that his teachers would sometimes find him sneak-reading books in his lap at his school desk.
I don't encourage ignoring teachers to read, but I'm delighted reading became one of Drew's passions. Encouraging kids to read what they like establishes the habit of reading. And if you're concerned that your son or daughter is caught up in reading non-practical content like fantasy and science fiction, consider two other items Neil Gaiman mentioned in his lecture.
In 2007, Gaiman attended the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention held in China. While there, he asked a top Chinese official why the party's policy had changed after disapproving of science fiction for years. The official explained that while the Chinese were great at making things others had invented, they couldn't innovate. Their system did not encourage imagination. They'd sent a delegation to interview top innovators in the USA at companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google. The delegation found that all the people who were inventing the future had read science fiction when they were boys and girls.
I 'd like to emphasize that Drew's passion for Star Wars included pouring over technical manuals for the Star Wars universe. These were based on fiction, but they helped Drew develop an understanding and appreciation for what's “under the hood” and how things work. While Drew's gross motor skills were lacking in some areas, he became incredibly adept at building intricate and complex Lego “Technic” constructions.
Did any of this prepare Drew for the accounting job he now holds? Maybe not directly, but I wouldn't rule it out. His reading certainly helped him develop the life skills he uses in living independently as an adult.
At the end of his lecture, Gaiman noted the response Albert Einstein gave when asked how we could make our children intelligent. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Einstein understood the importance of reading, and of using imagination to deal with life's challenges.
Children with Asperger Syndrome and autism are not likely to experience a lack of challenges as they become adults. It's good to know that encouraging them to read can help prepare them to craft the solutions they'll need to succeed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter is the author of eleven DVDs about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including, “Asperger Syndrome at Work: Success Strategies for Employees and Employers.” You can find more information and articles at his website: coultervido.com.
Copyright Dan Coulter 2013 Used By Permission All Rights Reserved