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Reading Difficulties and ASD. Patricia Rakovic. Based on the notion of a “ culture of autism”( Mesibov et al. 2005) the way individuals with ASD think and behave should not be seen as deficits. Rather, literacy experiences should build on each individual’s strengths and interests

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Based on the notion of a “ culture of autism”( Mesibov et al. 2005) the way individuals with ASD think and behave should not be seen as deficits. Rather, literacy experiences should build on each individual’s strengths and interests

  • Reading instruction therefor requires differentiated instruction and support

Be discerning & selective

when reading comprehension

research, data, reports, techniques,

recommendations, and strategies to determine

The Fit with ASD


thru the ASD lens

autism cognition and reading comprehension
Autism, Cognition and Reading Comprehension
  • Literacy skills provide the foundation for improving quality of life for all regardless of ability of functioning level.
  • Skilled readers do the following
    • Access relevant background knowledge
    • Make inferences
    • Monitor reading comprehension
    • Demonstrate fluency
    • Understand structure and vocabulary of text
    • Integrate relevant information from their own world to make meaning
autism cognition and reading comprehension1
Autism, Cognition and Reading Comprehension
  • It is important to have an understanding of the autism to be able to provide quality literacy instruction
  • Individuals with ASD my be able to fluently decode because of their strength of word calling and decoding but struggle with comprehension.
  • Characteristics of ASD include differences in
    • Socialization
    • Communication
    • Restricted interests and behaviors
characteristics that impact reading
Characteristics that impact Reading
  • Three models of constructs provide insight into the nature of ASD:
    • Theory of Mind
    • Executive Function
    • Central Coherence
theory of mind
Theory of Mind
  • First introduced by Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith refers to two important abilities
    • The capacity to recognize the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions of others and understand that these mental states are different than our own.
    • Using this understanding to predict the behavior of others.
theory of mind1
Theory of Mind
  • Challenges with perspective taking impacts reading or listening comprehension as one needs to understand how and why a character behaves in a certain way
  • Literal interpretation of language, intense interest in certain topics and challenges in engaging in shared experiences impact literacy development.
  • Will have difficulty making predictions and inferences
executive function
Executive Function
  • Executive function processes are critical for planning and carrying out goal-directed behavior while tuning out unnecessary distractions or information. Some of these processes include planning and initiation, working memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility and fluency.
  • Some individuals have difficulty inhibiting responses or managing impulses
  • Research suggests that while individuals with ASD are able to access background knowledge, applying the background knowledge across text can be challenging.
executive function1
Executive Function
  • Monitoring and self-correcting is critical for accurate understanding; difference in attention, memory, organizing and planning may make monitoring and self-correction challenging for individuals with ASD
  • These differences impact literacy experiences
central coherence
Central Coherence
  • Neuro-typicals tend to focus on meaning or the big picture
  • Individuals with ASD focus on the specific details
  • Weak central coherence impacts literacy development related to making meaning from text, as selecting important details to create a larger picture becomes critical to comprehension
  • The ability to identify relationships between words, concepts and/or experiences leads to missed connections
  • As the complexity of text increases the ability of individuals with ASD to integrate information for meaningful purposes may be challenged.
language comprehension
Language Comprehension
  • Differences exist in how individuals with ASD construct meaning from text. These differences include:
    • Acquiring certain vocabulary forms before others ( i.e, nouns before verbs)
    • Difficulty using bound morphemes( play versus played)
    • Challenges with pronouns
examining the reading process what is reading
Examining the Reading Process: What is Reading?


Get on the same page to define, understand and measure reading!

defining reading
Defining Reading
  • Our definitions of reading guide our understanding and views
  • Different reading assessments are based on different definitions of things like “comprehension”
the simple view of reading r d x c
The Simple View of Reading R = D x C

Reading is the product of the processes

(x not +). It involves language and cognition.

It is not as simple as it sounds, because the processes of decoding and understanding are complex and inter-related

If you can Decode and have Linguistic Comprehension, you are reading!

Gough & Tunmer, 1986

the simple view of reading r d x c1
The Simple View of Reading R = D x C

Problems can arise with D, C or both →

Problems with “D only” can be called dyslexia

Problems with “C only” can be called hyperlexia

(different than precocious hyperlexia)


“Strong mechanical word recognition with comparatively poor comprehension”



Grigorenko, E. L., Klin, A, Pauls, D. L., Senft, R., Hooper, C., & Volkmar, F. (2002). A descriptive study of hyperlexia in a clinically referred sample of children with developmental delays.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(1), 3-12.

hyperlexia is a learning disability
Hyperlexia is a learning disability

Grigorenko, E. L., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2003). Annotation: Hyperlexia: Disability or Superability? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44(8), 1079-1091.





a more complex definition of reading national reading panel 2005 p 28
A more complex definition of readingNational Reading Panel (2005), p.28

“A form of dynamic thinking [that] includes

  • interpreting information through the filter of one’s own knowledge and beliefs,
  • using the author’s organizational plan to think about information (or imposing one’s own organization on ideas),
  • inferring what the author does not tell explicitly,

as well as many other cognitive actions.”

what is comprehension
What is comprehension?

The purpose and the essence of reading



effective literacy instruction
Effective Literacy Instruction
  • Research has indicated that engaged behavior is the single best predictor of academic gains for students with disabilities
  • Students with ASD demonstrate differences in executive functioning that make engagement in the classroom challenging
comprehension constructing meaning
Comprehension=Constructing Meaning
  • Understand the text at the word and sentence level, “word knowledge”
  • Identify relevant information
comprehension constructing meaning1
Comprehension=Constructing Meaning
  • Relate, compare and integrate to what is already known a.k.a. “world knowledge” or prior knowledge
  • Internalize to own experience
comprehension constructing meaning2
Comprehension=Constructing Meaning
  • Create a new construct or idea, the gist or meaning
  • Store the new idea
  • Retrieve upon demand
factors contributing to reading comprehension
Factors contributing to reading comprehension
  • Fluent word recognition skills
  • Vocabulary knowledge
  • World knowledge
  • Comprehension monitoring
  • Active use of comprehension strategies

Pressley, M. (2001). Comprehension Instruction: What Makes Sense Now, What Might Make Sense Soon

what good comprehenders do
What good comprehenders do
  • Know why they are reading
  • Understand the point
  • Relate to prior knowledge
  • Relate to other text
  • See cause and effect
  • Interpret characters’ actions and emotions
  • Understand the author’s intentions
what good comprehenders do1
What good comprehenders do
  • Monitor understanding
  • Use strategies flexibly and in combination
    • Re-read
    • Look back
  • Predict
  • Revise/repair
  • Infer
  • Summarize
  • Mark, highlight
5 types of reading comprehension
5 types of reading comprehension

All five types of reading comprehension may be challenges for readers with ASD who can decode but don’t understand

  • Literal
  • Inferential
  • Critical
  • Affective
  • Lexical

(Adapted from Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004. Assessment in inclusive and special education, ninth edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.)

1 literal comprehension
1. Literal comprehension

Understanding explicit material in text

2 inferential comprehension
2. Inferential comprehension

Understanding ideas beyond the literal text by interpreting, synthesizing and extending meaning

3 critical comprehension
3. Critical comprehension

Meaning derived by evaluating, analyzing, and making judgments about material that was read.

4 affective comprehension
4. Affective comprehension

Relating to the material at a personal and emotional level.

5 lexical comprehension
5. Lexical comprehension

Making sense of text by knowing the meaning of key vocabulary words.

communication the language literacy link
CommunicationThe language-literacy link
  • Understanding oral language
  • Language processing
  • Auditory processing

Difficulties with speaking, listening and understanding affect literacy:

reading and writing

the language literacy link
The language-literacy link
  • A different timeline/uneven development
  • Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary

(number of words)

  • Vocabulary Gap
  • Literal and concrete vs. figurative, abstract and inferred
  • Difficulty with images, imagination & imagery
communication a ffects comprehension
Good readers ask questions before, during and after reading.

Generating questions before reading helps establish purpose and focus.

Questioning text while reading helps integrate the material with background knowledge.

Questioning while reading is a way to monitor comprehension.

After reading, good readers ask questions about the meaning of what they read and how to apply the information to their own lives.

Communication Affects Comprehension
shades of meaning activity
Shades of Meaning Activity
  • Teaches synonyms, expands vocabulary
  • Reveals the hidden meaning behind words
  • Teaches connotation: the emotion and intention attached to specific words
  • Clarifies the perspective and intention of characters or the author (social thinking)
shades of meaning rate or rank light to heavy
















Shades of Meaning RATE (+ – or =) & RANK (light to heavy)
effective literacy instruction1
Effective Literacy Instruction

Well implemented instructional strategies can build upon identified strengths.

These include:

  • Visual spatial processing
  • Keen awareness of visual and/or cognitive detail
  • Rote memory
  • Attachment to routine
effective literacy instruction2
Effective Literacy Instruction

Well implemented instructional strategies can build upon identified strengths.

These include:

  • Visual spatial processing
  • Keen awareness of visual and/or cognitive detail
  • Rote memory
  • Attachment to routine
comprehension activity social thinking and theory of mind
Comprehension Activity: Social Thinking and Theory of Mind
  • In random order, write down two things about yourself that are true, AND one “believable lie” on an index card.
  • A volunteer will read to the class
  • Try to guess which statement is not true. Talk about it!
  • .Relationship to comprehension
r r affects c poverty of experience is not experienced only by the poor
R &R affects CPoverty of Experienceis not experienced only by the poor
  • Perseveration: The knowledge and experience base in ASD are narrow and deep instead of shallow and wide
  • Limited background knowledge andexposure to a wide range of topics…and the language that goes with it.
  • Affects vocabulary, word knowledge, world knowledge and conversation
  • Disinterest in stories about non-preferred topics, less motivation, less reading:
effective literacy instruction3
Effective Literacy Instruction

Six categories of instructional strategies with strong evidenced based are:

  • Organized classroom environment
  • Visual supports
  • Structured instruction
  • Curricular modifications
  • Embedded supports
  • Maintenance and generalization planning
effective literacy instruction4
Effective Literacy Instruction

Two steps to assist in clarifying expectations and reducing competing information are

  • Segment the space
    • Clear boundaries to specify the different areas of the classroom
    • Only relevant materials in each segmented space
  • Minimize auditory and visual distractions
effective literacy instruction5
Effective Literacy Instruction

Visual Supports

  • Provide information that is accessible and stable over time
  • Reduces anxiety and difficulty around transitions since students are able to ‘see’ upcoming events and activities
  • One type of these is the schedule, there should be two ( classroom and individual)
    • Individual is for those that benefit from additional concrete information
effective literacy instruction6
Effective Literacy Instruction

Visual Supports: Work Systems

Work Systems visually answer four questions

  • What task or activity is the student to engage in ?
  • How much work is required OR how long will it take ?
  • How will the student know that progress is being made or the activity is finished?
  • What happens next, after the work or activity is finished
effective literacy instruction7
Effective Literacy Instruction

ABA strategies that are helpful in literacy instruction

  • Task analysis
  • Prompting
  • Reinforcement
  • Chaining
task analysis
Task Analysis
  • This involves breaking down complex behavior into its component parts.
  • Skills can be broken into many steps and taught in a number of phases
  • In ABA framework a prompt or a cue ( stimulus) is provided to the student; the child responds, and a consequence follows
  • Least to most prompts is a prompting strategy that can be used in effective literacy instruction. Least to most prompts may follow this hierarchy:
    • Gestural
    • Visual
    • Verbal
    • Model
    • Physical
  • Reinforcement is used to increase the use of a target skill or behavior. It is the contingent presentation of a reinforcer immediately following a student’s use of the skill
  • To effectively use positive reinforcement, teachers must first establish a target skill and performance criteria
  • The steps in a task analysis form a behavioral chain that can be taught. The process of reinforcing responses that occur in a sequence to form complex behavior is called chaining
contexts for building emergent literacy skills
Contexts for Building Emergent Literacy Skills
  • Shared Book Reading
    • Style of book reading in which the adult and child have rich conversations about the content and pictures in the text
      • Interactive or dialogic book reading
  • Dramatic Storytelling and Retelling
    • Activity in which children invent and act out stories or retell stories heard or read
  • Interactive Routines
    • Predictable, repeated actions written down as a schedule or chart
contexts for building emergent literacy skills1
Contexts for Building Emergent Literacy Skills
  • Music and movement
    • Enlarged print versions of lyrics written as interactive charts
  • Language Experience activities
    • Activity in which the teacher guides a discussion and written record of shared experience
  • Signing-in and signing-up
    • Activity in which children write their name on a piece of paper when they come to school in the morning or for turn taking purposes
  • Games
    • Type of play for targeting emergent literacy skills
use of powerpoint to create stories
Use of PowerPoint to Create Stories
  • PowerTalk PresentationPowerTalk.ppt
  • tom_sawyer_ce.ppt
  • ..\I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a.ppt