What can you convince a non-reader to read?
February 11, 2012 7:46 PM   Subscribe

My little brother probably has asperger's. He most definitely has next to no interests. Can you help me me find something my brother might like? Snowflakes inside, of course.

My eight year old brother probably has asperger's. My parents are handling it as best they can, but they're still trying to get him to show interest in something. Right now the only things he voluntarily does are play video games (Mario Galaxy and Pokemon) and watch Dragon Ball Z. I'd really like to take him somewhere this summer, and scientific me would love it to be a museum. But, before I pick a museum to take him to he first has to show interest in something.

I'd like to get him a few books to introduce him to things eight year old boys like. He is a good reader, but, according to my mother, when he reads his schoolbooks out loud to her he rushes through often skipping periods/punctuation to just get to the end. The only thing he willingly reads is Dragon Ball Z manga. Keeping in mind that he absolutely hates educational topics, he seems to enjoy math the most of his school topics. As an added difficulty, I'm not there to help him with these books (I'm 1000 miles away) and my parents will probably put minimal effort into encouraging him to read. I think part of the reason manga appeals to him is because of the pictures (he was never good with his imagination). Are there any books he might like?

(Not at all necessary, but +10 if the book might lead to me teaching him how to program. I'd love to be able to share an interest of mine with him.)
posted by semp to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I sounds like a broken record because I have mentioned this before but getting my seven year old son into minecraft overcame his resistance to reading (he has a diagnosed learning disability) because he was motivated to communicate via the chat. Since you are not physically nearby you can connect over a server to interact together. He also enjoys building things and making circuits (which he is now doing in real life). Only problem is, now I am kinda addicted too.
posted by saucysault at 7:59 PM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your brother is showing an interest in something - video games, Pokemon, and Dragon Ball Z. If you want to expand his horizons, I'd try to figure out what appeals to him about those things and then go from there. Does he like the regimented training, sort of military aspect of Pokemon? Then he might like learning more about war and the military. Does he like all the animals? He might enjoy seeing real animals that look like the animals in Pokemon.

Your brother might spend a lot of time feeling like the things he says, does, and thinks are wrong. He might be more receptive to someone meeting him on his terms.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2012 [19 favorites]

christinetheslp, I definitely like your idea. In the past I've tried asking him about his interests and come up empty, but I think that re-framing the conversation in terms of things he already likes might help. I'll definitely try that tomorrow morning.
posted by semp at 8:18 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

My brother with Asperger's went through a geology phase around that age and got himself a massive rock collection. Geodes, pyrite, all of it. Can you maybe find him a kids geology reference book and a rock polisher? After that it was dog breeds, then planets, then geography, then plants. Really, anything that involved classifying and comparing and memorizing trivia.

Educational computer games might be another avenue you can look into. My brother's interest in most science-y topics was spurred by games like the Magic School Bus and Jump Start. Educational, but with enough silly and repetition and absurdity to really hook him.

Finally, sometimes you just take what you can get with kids with Aspergers, who often get SO FASCINATED about one subject they won't focus anything else. So it might help to meet him more than halfway on his interests -- start reading and watching Dragon Ball Z and playing Mario Galaxy so there's some shared conversational ground. It might take awhile, but just getting him talking about anything will build some trust and eventually help find bridges into other topics. And buy him all the manga he can read; you can practice good reading habits (pacing, summarizing, predicting) with manga just as well as with other types of texts, and independent reading is the best way to develop reading skills.
posted by lilac girl at 8:19 PM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

My step brother has aspergers and is a grown adult now in his mid twenties. He also spends countless hours on video games and has for a long time, it may be that the video games allow him a private space where he doesn't have to communicate (often at great difficulty) to those around him.

One thing he became very interested in was illustration, particularly illustrating similar characters to in the games he was playing, manga sort've of stuff. He was given a pretty neat illustration pad / one of those electronic pen / pads that converts straight onto illustrator software? He really enjoys that and was considering doing a short course at a practice based higher education facility in the country i live - sadly he hasn't started the course yet but i know he still enjoys drawing.

If he's not interested in reading I would try and encourage him to do something creative and visual, maybe painting or illustration or sculpture or building / collecting things as the others have mentioned- these things still provide a safe, quiet and reflective space to be in for someone who has difficulties in relating to the "outer" world.
posted by Under the Sea at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2012

semp  He is a good reader, but, according to my mother, when he reads his schoolbooks out loud to her he rushes through often skipping periods/punctuation to just get to the end.

I might, too, if I had to read my schoolbooks out loud to someone. Is he supposed to do this because he won't read them to himself, or is there another reason?

What does it mean that he's a good reader? A lot of autistic/Asperger kids can read out loud fairly fluently, but because of the specific learning difficulties associated with autism, their comprehension can be poor, especially when social and emotional understanding is needed to understand what they're reading. They may struggle to put together the cause and effect of a storyline plot or a historical event.

Some of them also have non-obvious auditory processing problems that make it difficult to track and understand spoken language, which can lead to reading and writing also feeling difficult for them. Attention difficulties make this harder as well. Has he been evaluated for autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities?

Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. We had kids in my family who saw reading as a chore, but were happy to spend time illustrating and writing their own "books" about their current interest. Your parents could get him some crayons and paper and tell him they were bought for him to draw and write his own Dragon Ball Z manga. You could sit down with him and do that.

Talk with him as much as possible about anything he seems interested in. Especially if he has auditory processing problems, hearing and responding to spoken language in a conversation will help his understanding, reading and writing as well as his social skills. I don't know if they have Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon audiobooks or podcasts, but they might appeal to him if they exist. I'd also suggest turning on the closed captioning on the TV or the subtitles on the DVDs he watches.

I'd really like to take him somewhere this summer, and scientific me would love it to be a museum. But, before I pick a museum to take him to he first has to show interest in something.

He doesn't necessarily have to be already interested in science or educational topics for you to take him to a push-all-these-brightly-lit-buttons science museum, or a natural history museum, many of which are fun for people who are otherwise uninterested in the subjects. One of the purposes of most museums is to show people what's interesting about topics that might be new to them.

I think it's likely if he's a non-reader that he will start reading about a topic after he's developed an interest in it, not that he'll develop an interest in something after reading about it. Buying him a new book about a subject that's new to him or that he's never expressed any interest in, and pushing him to develop an interest in it, may turn him off.

I agree with lilac girl that you should let him read manga if that's what he'll read right now. He might also like gaming review magazines. He may like other manga or comic books/graphic novels, which you could ask a children's librarian about.

Minecraft is a good idea, but there are also plenty of non-gaming toys and topics that can lead naturally to reading about the subject if it hooks him. Building/construction toys are frequently a hit with autistic/Asperger children: Lego, Erector sets, marble mazes, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, toy snap-together circuits, race car and train tracks. For video/computer games, along with Minecraft, flight simulator games, the SimCity and other Sim game series, the Civilization series of games, etc. might appeal to him eventually. There are similar strategy-based board games as well, if someone has the time to sit down and play with him.

Thomas the Tank Engine is probably a little young for him by now, but is absurdly popular with autistic children, and has a lot of book tie-ins. Pokemon has book tie-ins as well.

For programming and online building/construction, a lot of kids like Scratch, and Google SketchUp is popular with many with autism/Asperger's.

Most of these suggestions are not books, but could become interests that lead in that direction, which might be a more successful tactic.
posted by hat at 10:17 PM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm dxed on the autism spectrum myself and when I was your brother's age (I'm 33 now) there was very little other than Star Wars and medical supplies that could hold my attention at all. (Seriously, my elementary school teachers used to call my parents in for conferences and straight-up ban me from talking, reading, or doing anything Star Wars-related at school. Which didn't work, and just made me miserable and bored.)

That said, on those (rare at first, but increasingly more often as I got older) occasions where something outside my preferred topics caught my interest, it was generally because of something about it that I could relate to said preferred topics. One of my first memories of this happening was when someone put on the movie "Enemy Mine" when I was visiting grandparents. I ended up watching the whole thing partly because it was a space movie that I (in my childhood logic) figured might turn into "Star Wars" at any minute!

Of course that did not happen and ultimately I came to appreciate that and other films on their own merits, but it definitely helped "hook" me when said films had something familiar about them, something I could relate back to a "primary interest". So in other words, I definitely agree with the suggestion of looking for things in the real world that you can explicitly tie into your brother's interests in Pokemon and whatnot. He'd probably love learning about things like, say, evolutionary adaptation in real animals, and you might also make some headway by looking up some of the pokemon creatures yourself and having a discussion with your brother on what real animals the pokemon creatures might have been based on, etc.
posted by aecorwin at 11:53 PM on February 11, 2012

So, he rushes when reading, isn't into museums, and only want to play video games and read comics? I don't doubt that your brother has asperger's, but you just described very, very many eight year old boys. Getting boys to read books without pictures is pretty much an age-old problem.

I'm not saying you shouldn't keep trying to give him more interesting books to read, but if it doesn't work don't blame your parents or the asperger's. He sounds pretty normal to me.
posted by that's how you get ants at 2:04 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with thyga - he just sounds like a normal 8-year-old, with healthy 8-year-old interests. If you want to get him something to read that he likes, get him some DBZ or One Piece or something. A book on programming? He's 8! Only if HE'S interested. Why not buy him some socks while you're at it.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 5:19 AM on February 12, 2012

What about getting him into other manga? You'd probably need to vet them first, as many are very NSF8YO, but it's a complex medium that has been used to explore many aspects of the human condition.
posted by Acheman at 6:16 AM on February 12, 2012

There's a specific "collector's mindset" that Pokémon appeals to. It's the same one that leads to computer nerds buying every Apple product since the company started, or art collectors to assemble exhibits. You need to capture the right Pokémon and train them the right way for the particular set you want, and that set needs to defeat the particular sets you go up against in a tournament--whether a "real" tournament against other players, or the scripted tournaments in the single-player game.

It's basically a sport for people who like spreadsheets. Does he know about Fantasy Football and its genre?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:08 AM on February 12, 2012

Oh, yeah--he might appreciate learning how to use a spreadsheet for the game's purposes. Not merely to take inventory, the game does that part for him. I'm thinking more like, "What particular attack is most effective against a Water type mon with Grass, Fighting, and Ghost resistance, and very high Dodge?" Ultimately that's just a matter of sorting a move sheet several times, but knowing exactly how is a very useful skill--possiby lucrative, in the future.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:13 AM on February 12, 2012

Graphic novels were the gateway to more, er, meaty books for my daughter. She's ten now and still adores graphic books (honestly, so do I, what's not to love), but also reads a lot of different things. Here's how it went: I took her to the library once or twice a week for a new stack of graphic books (heavy on the Pokemon and Warriors, but including others). I never quizzed her or made her tell me things, although if I expressed some interest, she would tell me in great detail about the plots. Eventually, she had basically read all they had that was remotely interesting to her and was remotely age-appropriate. Of her own accord, she admitted that if she wanted to keep reading, she was going to have to consider reading "regular books" and so she picked up a non-graphic version of one of the series that she loved and things just took off from there. Over a period of a few weeks, she went from reading only graphic books to reading novels with 200-300 pages.

I agree with saucysalt that minecraft was another gateway for my daughter, her reading, typing, spelling and social skills all improved once she started playing.

Also, she loves to read now, but loathes reading aloud just for the sake of reading aloud and would likely rush and skip if I were to force her to do it.

I highly recommend a trip to the library. Ours has a whole huge section of graphic novels, including history and science "comic" books, which are actually pretty fun. Also minecraft might be something you two could share at a distance, building and chatting together.
posted by upatree at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son is your brother's age and he has been diagnosed with Asperger's. Pokemon is pretty much AS crack and the trading card game has been really helpful for my kid to be more social with non-autistic kids. Pokemon also now has an online trading card game (there are also parent controls, such as kids can only chat with "canned" responses such as "good luck" or "pokemon rules." if the controls are set that way).

If he's wary of museums, it might be a sensory overload thing or he's anticipating sensory overload. We deal with museums and crowded places best by going just as the museum opens or on a sunny day when people are most likely to be doing outside activities.

Books that really have appealed to him are Harry Potter, Tintin, Asterix, Wimpy Kid and the Percy Jackson series. He also has an ancient (think 1980s) math book that he loves. He also has become obsessed with the Dork Diaries, which isn't very common among 8-year-old boys but he doesn't seem to care. He also likes programming stuff like Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic (make your own platformers! Very fun and a bit more user-friendly than Scratch).

As someone mentioned above, he might be resistant to pointing out any particular interests if he's been told they're "just games" or something like that. Also, it's sort of a stereotype that AS types have one obsessive interest; they can change over time or there can be multiple interests at once.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2012

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