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Sally J. Pla: Achieve Literacy by Not Reading (LD)

No one would argue with the notion that literacy is achieved through reading.

But, may I add: Literacy can be achieved NOT ONLY through reading.

Think about a moment during this weary, time-out-of-time we're all going through, this crucible year, a moment when you were so burnt out, so exhausted and 'done-with-it,' that the act of reading something for work felt like the world's most insurmountable chore.

Many kids with differences or mental-health challenges feel that way every day, when it comes to their reading assignments from school.

They may already have enough trouble with the physical mechanics of reading. On top of that, we too often assign subject matter that won't resonate with them at all -- thus turning one of life's greatest potential pleasures into a double-whammy of torture.

I know a 20-something autistic man who, as a young child, found the printed word on the page unbearable. His case managers at school tried tons of assistive adaptive techniques, but never had much success.

One day in middle school, this young man discovered a love of multiplayer online gaming. No judgment, no snobbery, please! Many of these games have storylines that are deeply rich, complex, epic, beautiful -- truly compelling.

Anyhow, with a little bit of teacherly guidance, this student discovered that his beloved game-worlds derived much from classic literature and mythology. His interest was piqued. He explored more. One day, he checked out a book on Arthurian legend. He didn't read the whole thing. Just skimmed here and there. It prompted him to try an audiobook. A podcast. More reading...

From there, he branched into history, and myth, and sociology, and many other subjects, cobbling together audio, short reading bursts, and other assorted efforts to gather the information, the words, that interested him.

He has since become a voracious consumer of words. Yes, a reader. It took trial and error, learning along the way what works for him. He still cannot sustain reading for super long periods. He knows how to adapt, how to make it work for him.

This young man is in graduate school now, and his written papers are so brilliant and original in their thinking, his professors are encouraging him to apply to the PhD program.

So, back to my initial statement:

No one would argue with the notion that literacy is achieved through reading.

But literacy is NOT ONLY achieved through reading.

It doesn't matter whether it's on film, on TikTok, on sidewalk chalk, in a video game or comic book. Doesn't matter if it's told over a kitchen table, across a campfire, or through a pair of earbuds.

To turn kids into literate, discerning readers -- and ultimately, into savvy consumers of information, thus intelligent, good citizens -- we have to start with the STORY. Start with the STORY. In whatever form it takes.

If a STORY captures a child's imagination, it leads to a hunger for more stories. And that can only lead to an ultimate awe and appreciation for the power of words -- the words that conjure the worlds inside our heads.


Sally J. Pla is the critically acclaimed award-winning #ownvoices author of middle grade novels The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, and the picture book Benji, The Bad Day, And Me, all of which feature 'differently brained' kids. She's also co-founder and editor of A Novel Mind. Find lots more about her via Follow her on Twitter @sallyjpla.


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