Teaching Children with Autism to Read

reading autism

Parents know their own child’s strengths and weaknesses very well. Teaching a child with autism to read involves observing how these strengths and weaknesses affect their ability to learn.

While every child has their own unique learning style, there are three main components that have been found to be highly beneficial in teaching children with autism to read.

1. Most children with autism are visual learners and prefer to have their learning material presented to them visually.

2. Children with autism tend to respond well to simple, concise and minimal instructions for completing a task or applying a skill.

3. Many children with autism perform well with phonics-based instruction presented in a visual and simple manner.

With these three components in mind, parents can try the following ideas to teach their child to read.

Use picture books and flash cards to teach words. Many children are visual learners, and benefit when whole words are associated with pictures. It is important to have the picture and the printed word on the same side of the card.

Show nouns and act out words. When teaching nouns, let your child hear you speak the word while you display the picture and printed word simultaneously. When teaching verbs, hold a card with the action (e.g. “blink”) and act out the verb by showing that action (e.g. blinking while saying “blink”).

Work with their interests. Children can often become fixated on a certain topic, such as trains or motorbikes. These interests can be a great source of joy for your child, and can motivate them to learn. If your child is fascinated by the ocean, choose books about ocean ecosystems and animals.

Label objects and toys. For each object or toy that your child uses, write the first letter of its name on a card and tape it to the object. Each time your child asks to use it, ask them what letter it starts with. Over time, move on to labelling each object with the entire word.

Choose a distraction-free zone. Work on reading in a quiet and sensory-neutral space. Choose a dimly lit room with minimal posters or artworks on the wall. Sit on the floor and speak in a quiet voice. Avoid fidgeting or multi-tasking while reading with your child, and don’t forget to take frequent breaks to provide regular sensory stimulation. See some ideas for reading spaces.

Use clear short phrases. Avoid varying your language or using different words when giving directions or instructions. Ensure phrases are clear and concise, for example, “James, read your book with Mummy/Daddy” or “Read the first page of this book”.

Read the same story again and again. Many children with autism enjoy repetition and by reading the same story again, you can help them pick up important language skills. Choose books that have a lot of repetition of phrases, such as nursery rhymes. Softly clap along to the rhythm together.

Use technology. A study in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders reported that children with autism gain greater enjoyment out of computer-based instruction in reading. Choose phonics-based programs that include rich visuals and a self-paced learning structure. Read how parents of children with special needs benefited from using the online reading program, Reading Eggs.

Reading Eggs is the multi-award winning online reading program for ages 3-13. New customers can sign up for a free 2 week trial here.

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