Blogger Early & Family Literacy committee

When Early Literacy Research Feels Personal

Recently, one of the important little ones in my life was diagnosed as having autism. Leading up to the diagnosis, I’ve become increasingly focused on how best to continue to encourage his love of books (as an 11 month old, he had the longest attention span and joy for stories of any baby I’ve known) and thinking about what research tells us that might inform how best to present a early literacy storytime for him.

Our ALSC Early & Family Literacy Committee discusses at each meeting our plans for our regular second Sunday of the month blog posting and at our September meeting, I confidently declared, “I’ll do something on the research about autism, early literacy and storytimes”. Then I promptly searched databases for peer-reviewed sources and tried to get my poor brain to process the language of research journals. I printed three articles and brought them back and forth from home to work to home again.

So what did I learn? There is not as much published research as I had hoped (much like the elementary schooler who chooses a project before assessing sources). One 2016 study referenced that their researchers only found three other studies addressing “emergent literacy skills of preschool-age children with [autism spectrum disorder] ASD”. That article focused on a small study of preschoolers with ASD, where researchers examined home literacy environment factors and gauged strengths and difficulties. Code-related early reading skills, such as alphabet knowledge came much more easily than meaning-related skills. The article did report that there was a mild correlation with frequency of book reading and children’s storytelling ability – but nothing sufficient to prove causality (Westerveld, M.F., Paynter, J., Trembath, D. et al. The Emergent Literacy Skills of Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 47, 424–438 (2017). Another of the articles reminded me that digital books with dynamic text can be helpful in teaching sight words to children with autism. Mandak, K., Light, J. C., & McNaughton, D. B. (2019). Digital Books with Dynamic Text and Speech Output: Effects on Sight Word Reading for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(3), 1193-1204.

At this point, I still felt unsatisfied – though I wasn’t sure if that was linked with my own searching abilities or the lack of sources themselves – until I attended the ALSC Virtual Institute. One of the sessions that I attended was titled Universal Design for Learning and Storytime: An Inclusive Approach to Early Literacy at the Library. It sounded promising, at least from the standpoint of learning current best practices for serving ALL of our customers. As the session progressed, Milly Romeijn-Stout shared that she is working on an IMLS-funded project titled Autism-Ready Libraries: Early Literacy Services for Autistic Children and Their Families where the deliverable will include an “Autism-Ready Libraries Toolkit”. I am eagerly anticipating learning more about the study as it progresses so that I am better able to communicate with my little guy in my natural environment – the library.

Today’s blog post was written by Kristin Piepho, Library Manager at the Mountlake Terrace Library (Sno-Isle Libraries), on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. 

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency:  I. Commitment to Client Group.

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