How Can We Help children of All Abilities to Enjoy Reading?

 By Naomi Webb

Reading is a past-time that all children, regardless of their ability, should have the chance to know and love. It’s escapism from day to day life, it encourages creativity and imagination, and it strengthens their capacity for empathy too.

These are just a handful of reasons that reading is so well-supported in the classroom, with educators investing in resources (from a supplier like this one) to help children of all abilities to enjoy reading. However, reading outside of the classroom is a hobby that’s too often reserved for a select group of children; those with parents who ‘buy in’ to the value of reading, families with resources to buy or borrow books, and often, children without learning difficulties.

According to an article published in the Guardian, children with autism have a particularly hard time being allowed to enjoy reading in the way they deserve to. A survey carried out by social care provider Dimensions asked 460 people with autism (and their families) if they’d use their local library more if adjustments were made. A staggering 90% of participants said that they would.

But why is this the case? Well, libraries are typically silent places where noise is strongly discouraged. However, autism can make it very difficult for children to remain quiet while they’re using the facilities in the library, and most libraries do not account or adapt for the sensory sensitivities associated with autism.

Anxiety and a sense of being ‘unwelcome’ prohibit children from enjoying libraries.  Excessive noise can be very unsettling for someone with autism, but a library where someone cannot make any noise at all can be much too restrictive: some children will make noises, talk to themselves while they’re reading, move around or become excitable, and it’s these ‘features’ of autism that dissuades children and their families from using libraries.

What we need to do, therefore, is ensure that public libraries help children with autism to feel comfortable in the environment. The good news Is that Dimensions and the Association of Senior Children’s and Educational Librarians are now collaborating to develop a network of libraries to welcome children with autism. If it’s successful, it will turn 3,000 libraries across England into venues that are more welcoming for children with autism.

But in what way, specifically can libraries help children of all abilities to enjoy reading? Well, libraries can educate staff and library users to be more tolerant and understanding of the features of autism, and use better signposting to communicate awareness and tolerance with all library users. Training library staff about autism would also do a great deal to help children of all abilities to enjoy reading, and designated ‘quieter areas’ would ensure that libraries can cater for those children who need a silent environment to read in.

Of course, it’s not just autism that can get in the way of enjoying reading. Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia can both make reading difficult, tiresome or unenjoyable. If you’d like to learn more about how to help children with ADD and other learning disabilities to enjoy reading, check out this article from Additude Magazine.

Naomi Webb is an experienced freelance writer specialising in the latest primary education trends and insights. She hopes her work provides valuable advice to teachers, parents and kids.