Grapevine Minds is a website that provides literary resources for autistic children and their caregivers. Founded by Jean Chun, a high school senior from Deerfield, Massachusetts, the site consists of an interactive online book and a metaphor-learning program geared toward elementary-aged children. The book, It’s My Birthday!, contains various interactive features that target general cognitive challenges for children on the spectrum, including recognizing main ideas, comprehending anaphoric relationships, and reading emotional cues. The metaphor-learning program is an interactive experience during which children construct thinking maps to better understand metaphors and create metaphors of their own.

Why is this resource important?

Literacy is important not only for academic performance but also for many other areas of life; it fosters self-confidence, encourages general independence, expands vocabulary, induces greater engagement in society, and so much more.[1],[2] Therefore, literary resources targeted towards engaging autistic children are conducive for bolstering their linguistic and literary skills.

About the founder

As a writer, Jean took an early interest in the science behind language processing and later discovered her passion for helping neurodivergent people access an enriched literary experience. Upon learning that autistic children often have a hard time reading, particularly owing to difficulties in metaphor processing, Jean decided to create an online book with specifically designed tools as well as a program that draws from study-proven methods for improving metaphorical understanding in children on the spectrum.

About the online book

Based on the author’s own experience as a twin, It’s My Birthday! tells the story of twin sisters Ava and Ellie. Ellie wants to go to the beach for their birthday, while Ava prefers the amusement park; the book teaches readers to appreciate the differences that make each person unique. As autistic children are often strong visual and auditory learners, the book features illustrations and audio recordings intended to foster greater engagement with the story.[3] The book also features interactive questions and activities based on an extensive review of studies that tested the effectiveness of such reading interventions. For example, a study by Irene O’Connor of Canada’s McMaster University highlighted the positive effects of anaphoric cueing (questions that prompt the reader to identify which noun or noun phrase a pronoun is referring to). This and other study findings were incorporated into the book.[4]

About the metaphor-learning program

The metaphor-learning program, Metaphor Fun!, consists of three different poems that utilize metaphors. Once the user reads a selected poem, they are then guided through a series of thinking maps to foster greater comprehension of the featured metaphors. A thinking map is a learning tool that helps the user find a commonality between two distinct objects. Like It’s My Birthday!, the metaphor-learning program is based on a review of various studies that examine effective interventions for figurative language comprehension in autistic children; in fact, several studies attest to the effectiveness of thinking maps.[5],[6] The metaphor-learning program includes opportunities for the user to create their own metaphors as well.

Conclusion

Effective language skills, which stem from engagement with literature, are invaluable for self-expression and communication in today’s interconnected world. Through Grapevine Minds’ resources, more children on the spectrum can enrich their experience of literature and develop the creative potential that resides within them.


References

[1] Randi, J., Newman, T., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2010). Teaching children with autism to read for meaning: challenges and possibilities. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40(7), 890–902.

[2] Bennie, M. (2020, November 23). Literacy – a skill for life for individuals with ASD. Autism Awareness. 

[3] The National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Autism Spectrum Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health.

[4] O’Connor, I. M., & Klein, P. D. (2004). Exploration of strategies for facilitating the reading comprehension of high-functioning students with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 34(2), 115–127.

[5] Mashal N., Kasirer A. (2014) Verbal and Visual Metaphor Comprehension in Autism. In: Patel V., Preedy V., Martin C. (eds) Comprehensive Guide to Autism.

[6] Kasirer, A., & Mashal, N. (2014). Verbal creativity in autism: Comprehension and generation of metaphoric language in high-functioning autism spectrum disorder and typical development. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.

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