Teaching Him to Read Pt. 3: Singing to Read

Previous entry: https://thepoliticsofreading.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/teaching-him-to-read-pt-2-dyslexia/

Over the break, I visited home again and had the opportunity to continue reading with my brother.  This time, his cognition seemed to be a lot better, and he was in a great mood.  We decided to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  Beyond this book just being fun and admittedly nostalgic, it was also a good pick because it focused on individual letters instead of just whole words. I mentioned in previous posts that Josh has learned to read through the whole word method.  As a result, individual letters tend to be more challenging for him.  He doesn’t yet have a grasp on phonics, but this book gave me the chance to try explaining that “B says ‘buh'” and “D says ‘duh.'”

As we got further into the book, the reading sounded more rhythmic.  “A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” was stuck in my head for a little while after.  The book’s sing-song nature really captured Josh’s attention.  He was engaged, entertained, and determined to read the words he knew.  This active participation reminded me of a unique speech method I’d heard of before: learning language through music.  My psychology teacher told me years before that some SLP’s try to teach patients by singing because music activates a different part of the brain.  While I don’t know the neurological specifics of this claim, I can see how it would make sense for someone like Josh.

Constructing speech is his most difficult hurdle, but he’s able to memorize large chunks of song lyrics.  He can even recall nursery rhymes that he hasn’t heard in at least a decade.  One way we like to communicate with Josh is by allowing him to fill in the blanks.  For instance, he loves the Arthur theme song.

Us: “Every day when you’re walking down the…”

Josh: “Street!”

Us:   “Everybody that you…”

Josh: “Meet!”

Us: “Has an original point of…”

Josh: “View!”

Us: “And I say…”

Josh: “Hey!”


In autism, scripting is a common behavior.  People will recite movie lines or song lyrics, sometimes where they are applicable in a social situation.  The other day, Josh started singing the “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family…” song from Barney, possibly to mean “I love you.”  I also work with an individual who has autism.  He is verbal and uses scripting daily.  Once when his computer wasn’t working, he said frantically, “The bomb! The bomb!”  He repeated this alarming line from a movie because he connected the conflict in a movie to the conflict happening with his computer. (We have discussed why specifically saying “the bomb” could be problematic, though.) Many autistic people actually learn how to speak from watching movies and learning when certain scripts are useful.

Given scripting’s prevalence in autism and Josh’s preference for songs, I want to try integrating music into Josh’s reading lessons.  I was thinking we could print lyrics to songs he knows and then try to read them with him.  Song lyrics are more predictable.  Instead of needing to decipher each word, like when he reads a book, Josh would have the song available to him for help. If he gets stuck on a new word, he can (hopefully) remember how the song goes and use it for reference.  Additionally, function words pose a challenge to Josh.  Nouns are easier for him to learn because he can associate them with a picture, like the word “cat.” A function word like “the,” however, demands some more work for recognition.  One mistake he makes often is reading both “the” and “that” as “that” because he sees the “th-” and assumes they are the same word.  I believe songs could help here as well.  Rather than asking Josh to fill in the blanks at the end of a line in a song, maybe we could try encouraging him to fill in the function words.



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