Spectrum Mom writes:

Why I Recommend Toon Books for Children with Autism

The growing number of children diagnosed with autism today presents many challenges for parents, educators, and society as a whole. As the mother of a boy with autism, I focus a lot of my attention on his reading, because reading is a skill that opens so many doors. While the supporters of that notion seem innumerable, reading support specifically designed for the child with autism is far harder to find.

Yet, in a way, this lack makes sense. Every reader with autism is different, and no one program could address all their needs. Many are reluctant readers, some are dyslexic, and some are hyperlexic (where the ability to read outstrips the ability to comprehend).

Still, readers with autism do share common traits. These include literal thinking, a need for structure, and a tendency to repetitive behaviors. At the very least, there should be book lists for parents and educators to try. I and others are working to provide those lists, and I have put TOON Books on mine.

My son has trouble with verbal processing, so he relies a lot on reading. At the same time, he struggles with comprehension. One possible reason is an impaired ability to visualize the story. With a TOON Book, my son can watch the story unfold on the page instead of trying to see it in his head. The pictures also provide clues for the child trying to decode words. TOON Books offer two ways for meaning to reach the reader, the text and the pictures.

Many books designed as early readers, especially chapter books, offer little picture support. And some illustrated books show incorrect information, or include pictures haphazardly. TOON Books give readers picture support that corresponds exactly to the story. This may sound like a small thing, but if you’ve ever tried to explain to a child why the pictured dragon is the wrong color, or encountered a picture two pages before or after the incident it illustrates, you know how confusing mismatches can be to the child reader. For the child reader with autism, such an error can ruin a book.

Most children with autism have difficulty “reading” the emotions of others. TOON Books can help with this because the exaggerated comic style shows mouse Benny’s happiness or monster Stinky’s anger so clearly.

The themes of TOON Books also help explain social interactions that may puzzle children, especially children with autism. Stinky doesn’t want anyone new in his space, but he finds out that a really weird stranger (an ordinary kid) can become a friend. Benny and Penny don’t like their cousin Bo because he breaks their toys, but they’re happy to play with him when he doesn’t.

But what appeals most to my son about TOON Books is what appeals to kid readers in general. Making sound effects is fun. Stories about monsters and mice are fun. Comics are fun. TOON Books are fun!

We’ve included a Q & A with Spectrum Mom here:

Does your son choose his own books? Does he pick comics?

I choose most of my son’s books. When he chooses, he usually picks picture books or easy readers. Comics are shelved in a section he doesn’t frequent.

How old is your son? What’s his reading level compared to his peers?

My son is ten. His reading level is officially about two years below that, but that doesn’t give the full picture. He can read the same words as his peers, but he doesn’t understand them as well.

Do you have a way to assess his comprehension of the TOON Books?

We don’t try to assess his comprehension of TOON Books. We use them as pleasure reading.

Does he re-read them, spend time with them? Does he pick up more books with the same characters such as Benny and Penny?

He re-reads most books left in his room. He hasn’t had the opportunity to pick up new TOON books on his own (see question 1).

Do you read TOON Books aloud with your son, and does he use intonation for the voices?

We’ve read most TOON Books aloud and my son reads with tons of expression and personality.

Has interest in one book led to other TOON Books? Were our 3 levels useful, or did your son or you pick at random?

We read Stinky in November 2009 and I started looking for more TOON Books then. We’ve just started level three books. I find the levels useful for both my sons.

Which is your son’s favorite character and what does he like most?

My son’s favorite character is Otto, of Otto’s Orange Day. His favorite part is “when they talk about the colors.”

Does your son pick up on some of the humor in the TOON Books? If so, which one?

He enjoys word-play, like when Otto’s friend tells him he has “the oranges.”



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