BY DR. MICHELLE SHIFFMAN
Pediatrician at Denver Health & Reach Out and Read Colorado Medical Director
"Reach Out and Read Colorado is dedicated to helping ALL families find meaningful connections through shared reading time."
As healthcare providers in Colorado, we work with a diverse group of patients and families from all socio-economic backgrounds, genders, and races. Reach Out and Read Colorado is dedicated to helping all of these families find meaningful connection through shared reading, as prescribed by a trusted medical provider. However, families that are sometimes missed are those families with young children with neurodiversity, who engage with others and think and learn differently. For many of these families reading can be a struggle and may not be inherently easy or fun.
Neurodiversity does not implicate any specific diagnosis, and it encapsulates so many of the young patients we see on a daily basis. I recently had a mother tell me she was so surprised when I encouraged her to read nightly with her daughter who had cochlear implants and hearing impairment. I discussed singing songs, reading slowly, pointing at pictures, and reading the same book many times. Not only will she continue to improve her language proficiency, but she is also creating happy core childhood memories of a time when she felt loved and spent dedicated time with a loving caregiver.
Another parent recently laughed when I handed him a book and discussed night time bedtime routines incorporating reading. His smart but active son with ADHD was spinning around on the doctor stool and jumping around the room at the same time. He was certain his child would never sit still for reading. I discussed the importance of shared moments together and the misconception that reading must be a quiet and still activity! In fact, for children with ADHD, using a book as a visual signal to calm down prior to nap or bedtime can be helpful. Additionally, by engaging the child and asking questions, singing songs, or even breaking up reading time with play, a child can reap all of the benefits of shared reading despite any neurodiverse challenges.
Mesha Makes Friends is a new title in the All About Books catalog that follows a young girl, Mesha, as she navigates social situations with peers and the challenges of social cues. Mesha discovers that her special creative talent helps her make and maintain friendships. I love this title because the author, Tom Percival, didn’t write this book specifically for kids with Autism and instead all children, and provides either a mirror or window for its readers. (Please note: Mesha Makes Friends does not make any mention of Autism in the story.)
Reach Out and Read is dedicated to helping providers care for families from all diverse backgrounds including neurodiversity. This resource is available for providers and families to help better care for our neurodiverse children and to make sure they are gaining the same benefits from reading aloud with loved ones.