Teaching reading to children with autism

In some ways, teaching reading to children with autism is like teaching anything else to them.  It is those similarities that this blog focuses on.  Many children with autism are sensitive to light, sounds, smells, busy walls, chairs that are too big, and the feel of their clothes. Before you begin a reading lesson, make sure the environment works for the child or he will be unable to focus.

Make sure the student is paying attention before you begin and during the lesson. If he is looking away, or if his eyes have that blank look, assume he is not paying attention.  Say his name.  Say, “Look at me.”  Only when you have his attention, begin or continue on.

When you give directions, say them in short sentences. If the directions have more than one step, say the steps one at a time.  Let the student complete the first step, thank him, and then say your second direction.  For four-year-olds and five-year-olds, pictures of what behavior you expect can help.  Sometimes asking the student to repeat the direction helps.

Make your directions and comments specific. “Put the book in the desk.”  “Stand up.”  Skip adjectives, prepositional phrases and any extra words that might muddle the message.  And don’t word your directions as questions.  “Would you like to put your book away now?” to you might mean “Put your book away,” but to a student with autism, it might mean something different.

No idioms. No inferences.  No sarcasm.  No humor.  Keep your comments factual and expect factual responses.

Warn several times that an activity will end. “Ten more minutes.”  “Five more minutes.”  “One more minute.”

Many students with autism find handwriting difficult. If the student must “write,” try using a laptop, tablet or even a phone.  Or allow him to respond orally.

Praise wen the student responds appropriately.  You don’t need to gush, but say “Thank you” when the student behaves as you ask.

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