Teaching Children with Autism about Character Perspective

As a member of the International Literacy Association, I enjoy receiving articles about literacy and evidence based strategies that are practical and interesting. In the latest journal of The Reading Teacher, July/August 2018, I gravitated towards the article titled, Understanding Character Perspective: Strategies to Support Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Elizabeth G. Finnegan and Amy L Accardo.

As a speech pathologist that has specialized in working with individuals with Autism for almost 20 years, I have focused many of my speech and language sessions on perspective taking of different characters. From my perceptive, it is crucial that autistic children and adults learn to express their emotions and feelings so that they can achieve the goal of social closeness with others and also learn to express their own feelings and emotions. To begin this journey of learning emotions and social cues, perceptive taking is key! I have work  on this goal through social stories, adapted books and selected children’s literature.

What is theory of mind? Theory of mind is the ability to understand another character’s thoughts and feelings. For students with Autism, theory of mind can be significantly affected. The authors in this article discuss the link between interpreting a characters thoughts and text comprehension. How can children with autism get the most from a text when there are challenges with character perspective? This article explores ways that educators can help these students understand different character perspectives. According to Cannon (1993), “When readers are able to make inferences about characters’ thoughts, and words and actions, and recognize how those affective states are linked to the action of the plot, they increase their ability to realize the thematic elements of a story.” 

How can we help children with Autism develop theory of mind during literacy activities? 

Finnegan and Accardo discuss the following strategies:

      1. Use graphic organizers that best fit with the lesson objective. Finding or creating a story map that helps students with Autism visually a characters’ feelings and emotions throughout the story can be helpful. To get started with some story maps, check out the Reading Rockets Story Maps.
      2. Anaphoric cueing is the strategy used to help students “interpret pronoun referents” (Finnegan & Accardo, 2018). According to Finnegan & Accardo, “A potential barrier to understanding the perspectives of different characters is the ability to produce and comprehend pronouns. Pronouns are the most common form of anaphora.” (page 74). So, how can we use this type of cueing to help children with Autism understand pronouns better as it relates to the characters in the story? According to the authors, teacher need to use cloze strategies , select texts that help a student practice, and use visual organizers. To use this at home when reading aloud, check in with your child by asking what the pronouns refers to. For example, when reading The Monkey Balloon, the reader can say “She lost her balloon and was sad”. Then ask your child does “she” refer to “Mimi, Papi or the Monkey Balloon?” or with a cloze strategy, ____ is sad she lost her balloon (have your child fill in the blank with the appropriate name. This should be done intermittently during your read aloud or though a carryover activity that is more written based. I have already started using this strategy and have found it very useful! 
      3. Use Question-Answer Relationships! To learn more about this, click here.

Do you want to learn more about evidence based strategies for reading aloud? Check out my ebook, Improve Your Child’s Language and Learning in 20 Minutes.


Finnegan, E. and Accardo, A. (2018). Understanding Character Perspective: Strategies to Support Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Reading Teacher, 72(1), pp.71-80.




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