A sensory BookTrust Storytime: Nazia’s story

Published on: 18 June 2024

We spoke to Nazia, whose son has been taking part in a sensory BookTrust Storytime for SEND families at her local children's centre – and why she'd strongly encourage parents of autistic children to come along.

Adapting BookTrust Storytime for SEND families

Nazia and her sons have been coming along to Stay and Play sessions at Rookery Children's Centre in Birmingham for two years. Her eldest, four-year-old son is autistic, and coming here has been huge source of support.

"I don't want to apologise for him being autistic," she says. "One of the biggest challenges I've found is when you bring your child out, you get scared, because you don't want to get judged.

"One thing someone said to me, and it has stuck with me, is to see the world through his eyes and not mine. It's about unlearning everything and seeing what he needs."

The sessions at Rookery Children's Centre are delivered by early years experts to create a welcoming, supportive environment for SEND families. The aim is to help children develop their speech, communication, social and emotional skills, and offer support for parents – including with shared reading at home.

Practitioners here have been adapting the BookTrust Storytime programme and resources to create sensory Storytimes as part of these Stay and Play sessions. As well as incorporating sensory elements to engage SEND children – including water, sand, bubbles, textured materials and soft toys - it's also about modelling for parents, so they leave feeling empowered with tips and tools for sharing books with their children at home.

"When you see somebody else do it, you take ideas," says Nazia. "I can get different materials, colours, blocks, lights, the bubble machine. That's what I do.

"I come along and look at how they're doing the stories. And then I'll take back and do it with my boys."

During today's session, practitioners read BookTrust Storytime book I Am Happy by Michael Rosen, as well as one of the books gifted in BookTrust's Bookstart Star packs – weaving in their linguistic teaching techniques, plenty of sensory play and a relaxed, child-led approach.

Bookstart Star packs to take home and enjoy

A practitioner gifting a Bookstart Star pack

At the end of the session, each family is gifted a Bookstart Star pack to take home – which includes their own copy of one of the expertly chosen books by BookTrust that children have just enjoyed.

"It's really good to have my own copy," says Nazia. "If my sons like something, they want to imitate it again and again. Because they know what's coming with the story now, they'll anticipate it and wait for me to do the actions."

For Nazia, finding high-quality, affordable books suited to her son's needs has been a challenge.

"Because my son has Pica [a condition that leads to eating non-edible objects] he likes to chew," she says. "That's what we look for when we're choosing a book: books that have thicker spines and covers – books that will last. In the past, autism-friendly books have been priced so much higher.

"These Bookstart Star books are thick enough to stay in tact if my son chews them. I also like that the touchy-feely parts are made from felt.

"He might not always understand what I'm saying to him when I read the pages, but he likes to touch, he likes to feel."

Bonding through imaginative play and stories

Practitioners leading an I Am Happy story time session

Nazia also appreciates the prompts and the finger puppet in the Bookstart Star packs that are there to support families to engage in imaginative play around the books.

"When I was growing up, we didn't have a lot of pretend or sensory play," she says. "There wasn't a lot of my parents getting involved. Being immigrants, and being part of a large family, there wasn't a lot of time. But I've found my boys love when I get them involved with me doing stories and pretend play.

"When Daddy gets back from work and we're getting them down for bed, they get to choose their book. Daddy reads it to them and does imaginative play, so reading gets everyone involved. It's about having that quality one-to-one time with them. They grow up so quick, having that little bit of extra time in with them, it's magical."

Take part in story time: Nazia's message for parents of autistic children

"One thing I would say is don't give up," says Nazia. "It is hard. And it is going to be a struggle. But just come, because they love it. They'll enjoy it.

"As the parent of an autistic child it's: 'Oh is he going to run away?' But the staff are brilliant, hands on. If I turn my back, they're watching. Just come and be a part of it.

"And don't be scared. Because you're not alone."

Reading Together

Reading Together, Changing Children's Lives is based on decades of experience of working with millions of families and thousands of local partners, including health visitors, nurseries, schools, libraries and food banks.

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