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What are some of the best learning strategies when teaching a child with autism to read and write?

Teaching literacy skills to children with autism can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it can be a rewarding experience. Here are some learning strategies that have been found to be effective in teaching children  with autism to read and write:

Visual Supports and Graphic Organizers: Visual supports such as pictures, symbols, and graphic organizers can be helpful in making abstract concepts more concrete for autistic learners. These can be used to reinforce vocabulary, concepts, and sentence structure. Teaching letter sounds in conjunction with words and pictures is super beneficial. Also, using graphic organizers to help learn is transferred to other learning skills as well.  If you are teaching the letters S A T P I N – use jumbles to create words.  Write a letter on a square paper and have the child put them in different combinations to make words.  Use clothespins to match letters to sounds.  There are many ways to incorporate visuals with learning.  

Case Study: In a study conducted by Knobloch and Pasco (2013), the use of graphic organizers was found to be effective in increasing reading comprehension in children with ASD. The study used graphic organizers with pictures to help the children understand the main idea of a story and improve their recall of details.

a child studying

Best ways to teach a child with disabilities

Multi-Sensory Learning: Children with Autism often learn best through hands-on, multi-sensory activities. Activities that incorporate  movement, touch, and sound can help to engage the child and make learning more enjoyable.  In the letter-learning example, learning  S A T P I N letters with playdough, body movements, and songs will up the engagement and learning overall. Learning social skills through skits and role play, and learning math with manipulatives are more effective for many learners in general, but especially important with working with children on the spectrum.
Case Study: A study by Facoetti et al. (2010) found that a multi-sensory approach to reading instruction was effective in improving phonological processing in children on the autism spectrum. The study used a computer program that incorporated visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation to help the children improve their reading skills.

Task Analysis and Direct Instruction: Children with autism often benefit from direct instruction and breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable steps. This can help to reduce anxiety and frustration and increase their confidence in their ability to learn. Educators call this scaffolding or chunking – and it is extremely impactful for children with various learning and social differences.  For example – teaching letters in alphabetical order is a thing of the past.  Try teaching letters in “most used” groupings like –  A T S P I N – and instead of teaching letters independently, teach them in phonetic or word groups.  Like…S A T…focus on the S, the A, and the T as a group that make the word “sat”…and focus on the sounds s, a, t – but also “sa” and “at” and then blended together to make the word “sat” and show pictures of someone who “sat”.  This adds context and concrete learning to what could be an abstract idea.

Case Study: A study by Salter and colleagues (2019) found that task analysis and direct instruction were effective in teaching writing skills to children with autism. The study used a step-by-step approach to teach the children how to plan, organize, and write a paragraph. 

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