The limited research that exists to guide teachers in providing reading instruction to students with autism suggests using the evidence-based instructional practices named in the National Reading Panel report (2000) that include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension.
While students with autism are increasingly being included in general education classrooms, they are often excluded from rich and meaningful literacy experiences like reading and writing stories, book clubs, acting and performing, journaling, and whole-class and small-group discussions. Often, it seems that the expectations of educators and others are that the students will only be able to acquire some sight words (vocabulary), but not skills in phonics, even though studies have shown that this population can indeed learn decoding skills (Al Otaiba & Hosp, 2004). The limited research that exists to guide teachers in providing reading instruction to students with autism suggests using the evidence-based instructional practices named in the National Reading Panel report (2000) that include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. Very explicit comprehension instruction is particularly important for teaching the cognitive processes involved with text comprehension.
Vocabulary-One promising way to engage students with autism in improving their vocabularies is the use of what Paula Kluth has dubbed “fascination books.” Many individuals with autism have a deep interest in one or more topics. Some interests are commonly seen across individuals with autism (e.g., trains, animals, weather), while others seem more unique to an individual. Good examples of this can be found in the autobiographical writing of Sean Barron (Barron & Barron, 1992), in which he shares his fascination at different points in his life with the number 24 and by dead-end streets. Look for leveled books on topics of interest to assist students during Guided Reading practice and for Self-Selected Reading.
Comprehension– If students are unable to answer comprehension questions, teachers might offer the students other ways to demonstrate their understanding. For example, teachers could ask learners to draw or point to pictures (which may also be challenging for some students on the spectrum), use signs, gestures, or pantomime to retell the story, or create a collage or cartoon related to the text. Reciprocal teaching is a powerful approach to teaching comprehension that incorporates the use of four strategies: summarizing, question-generating, clarifying, and predicting. Video Modeling can support reciprocal teaching since students with autism are typically quite visual. The teacher may consider taking a video of a reciprocal teaching lesson and sending the clip home for viewing (Kluth & Olcott,2007).
Writing– Visual organizers such as flow charts, concept maps, advance organizers, or Venn diagrams help concretize literary information for students with autism (Hetzroni & Tannous, 2004).
T-TAC Lending Library Books—Check it Out!
A Land We Can Share by Paula Kluth
Drawing a Blank: Improving Reading Comprehension for Readers on the Autism Spectrum by Emily Iland.
Al Otaiba,S., & Hosp, M. (2004). Service learning: Training pre-service teachers to provide effective literacy instruction to 10 remedial and special education students with down syndrome. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(4), 28–35.
Barron, J., & Barron, S. (2002). There’s a boy in here: Emerging from the bonds of autism. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.
Hetzroni,O. E., & Tannous, J. (2004). Effects of a computer-based intervention program on the communicative functions of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 95-113.
Kluth, P. & Chandler-Olcott, K. (2007). “A land we can share”: Teaching literacy to students with autism. Baltimore:Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Development.