Storytelling and Our Communities: Part I: Autism

Posted on May 10, 2018

by Heidi Y

Storytelling strategies for reaching and teaching children with special needs / Sherry Norfolk and Lyn Ford, editors ; foreword by Kendall Haven

One of the most important things in this world we do is trying to connect with another person. We think it is easy; simply go up to someone and say “hi.” That’s an introduction on the most basic level. But is it a connection of lasting foundation? Of course not. Yet, this is how many of us spend much of our days, going from one “hi” to another, all the while not really making an actual connection with people.

“Connecting with another person is one of the highest forms of social being for humans. If I’m telling you a story with a familiar structure you can identify with, your brain actually anticipates what I am going to say next. The point is that that’s good for both parties; we want to be in sync with other people. That feeling of synchronization is a profoundly satisfying one.” ~ What Storytelling Is and Is Not by Nick Morgan, Forbes, April 14, 2015.

Storytelling is the way I connect with other human beings, every day. As a Children’s Librarian, it is my job to make use of body movements, pacing, rhythm and engagement in programming for my audiences. Mostly these audiences are made up of children and their caregivers. One of the most worthwhile audiences I try engaging and connecting with are children with Autism.


Caring for young children with special needs / Cindy Croft

About seven years ago, I started doing outreach to Autism schools in the area. The impetus was a local school calling and wanting to come to the library for a monthly storytime for their students. As the students tried to get more comfortable with my ways, I knew I had to change my approach. Bouncing, singing and using my physicality throughout a storytime was not going to work for these children. I had to try “tempering” my work.

I turned to the basic idea of an IEP, or Individualized Education Program. My son was part of an IEP during his years in elementary school. That IEP was a great help to both of us, as he struggled with his disability. I thought this type of plan may be adapted and help me to create an effective storytelling experience for the children I serve on the Autism Spectrum. I had never worked with ASD students before, so I researched and studied articles on Autism. And I tailored my techniques for them.

I purposefully keep the volume of my speaking voice at a lower level. I have slowed down my speech patterns. I have eliminated my propensity to do a lot of fast, physical movements and I only use shorter selections of music for each of my storytimes. There are many times the children and I simply sing together, with no background music, especially when many of the students are susceptible to loud noise.

I always have a plan to outline how I want the program to flow, from music, to tactile felt flannelboards, to the stories used. I try to break down what I want the children to learn, remember and engage with over the course of our 15 minutes together. Any more time than that, and the attention of most of the students lessens, or becomes agitated. I have a specific topic for each storytime. I may use different stories for each class, but all the stories are based on the same theme. And I use them over a few weeks or months in some cases. This repetition helps in the children’s early literacy skill-building. It has all worked well for the students and I. The teachers are pleased with the students’ responses during storytime.

Beyond the flannel board : story retelling strategies across the curriculum / M. Susan McWilliams
How to talk so little kids will listen : a survival guide to life with children ages 2-7 / Joanna Faber & Julie King ; illustrated by Coco Faber, Tracey Faber and Sam Faber Manning

Also available in Audiobook.

By working with these students, I have grown in confidence in my storytelling skills, and now work with several Autism schools in the area. I have continued using the basic storytime model I set up years ago. I think the storytelling skills are quieter but much more meaningful. I choose books which are applicable for the children’s needs, from high-functioning, to low-functioning ASD. Characters which resemble themselves, supporting diversity and evoke lots of laughter, are some of the selections I choose. The children have made me a better, more effective advocate for early literacy skills. The power of storytelling is exemplified in the ASD students’ response to our time together. Their engagement during storyime is infectious to watch. I know for a short time, I am helping that joy to thrive through the connections we make together.

In a different key : the story of autism / John Donvan and Caren Zucker

Also available in eBook and eAudio.

All my stripes : a story for children with autism by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer ; illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Uniquely human : a different way of seeing autism / Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D. ; with Tom Fields-Meyer

Also available in eBook.

Did you like this blog post? Keep up to date with all of our posts by subscribing to the Library’s newsletters!

Keep your reading list updated with our book lists. Our staff love to read and they’ll give you the scoop on new tv-series inspired titles, hobbies, educational resources, pop culture, current events, and more!

Looking for more great titles? Get personalized recommendations from our librarians with this simple form.