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Reading is one activity that a child with autism may find particularly challenging. We consider three distinct learning styles, while putting a lesson plan together to help a child with autism with learning to read. A child could adopt any one of these styles or sometimes even a combination and any lesson plans I develop tend to factor in the child’s learning style:

  • The visual thinker uses pictures and images to associate words and their meaning
  • The aural learner uses phonetics or sounds to read and comprehend words
  • The kinaesthetic learner are hands-on learners and use sensations & touch to aid comprehension

Before I start working with a pupil, I tend to carry out an in-depth assessment with the child. This is crucial to identifying the targets that we need to focus on in the pupil’s development.

So, what are the things to consider when you are teaching a child with autism to read? Here are 7 of the most important things that I do.

  1. Use clear and direct instruction: Keep language as simple and factual for the child to understand what you are saying
  2. Focus on incremental steps: I try to break each skill into smaller steps and knit these together to help the child towards mastering the skill
  3. Teach only one new concept at a time: I only move to the next skill or more complex topic/concept once a child has completely mastered one skill. For instance, with an aural learner, I start with simple individual phonic sounds beginning with the easiest sounds before I move to combining sounds to create syllables
  4. Use multi-sensory techniques: I use a magnetic white board with moveable letters with both kinaesthetic and visual learners, while I use verbal cues with aural learners. Tracing the shape of letters on a textured surface like velvet or forming letters in sand or rice is effective with kinaesthetic learners. This is also an opportunity to make the activity more engaging and fun. Using different techniques also has ancillary benefits such as helping the child develop fine motor control, where this is a target to address.
  5. Provide concrete examples: I prefer to demonstrate with actions such as by blending and segmenting letter tiles to explain word construction to a child, instead of using long verbal explanations.
  6. Reward the child’s progress: Praise the child regularly, when they succeed at something. This is perhaps the most important aspect, as it helps build their self-confidence and self-esteem, while motivating them to continue learning. Using visual tools like charts and stickers will help the child see their continuing progress, even if they do not fully understand where that is leading.
  7. Use technology where possible: Back when I first started teaching children with autism, we did not have the aid of smartphones. With the prevalence of smartphones, you could also use technology to engage a child. Some of the apps that I have used

a.     First Letters and Phonics Lite
b.     Crazy Cursive Letters Lite
c.      Phonics with Phonzy
d.     First Words Sampler
e.     Signed Stories
f.       Listen Hear One
g.     Reading Fun English Worksheets
h.     Zoolingo
i.       Simplex Spelling Light

The reward from seeing a child progressing through their journey towards reading is immense, particularly when a child achieves that overcoming the difficulties that autism places in its path. I hope the points in this post help de-mystify what might otherwise seem like a daunting task.

Sheena is an ABA practitioner with 17 years experience. Her time is spent working with a range of autistic children between the ages of 3 to 18 years. Sheens also manages those with challenging social and emotional behaviour.

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