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Ready to Learn: Strategies and Insight on How to Teach Children to Read

teaching a child to read Oct 03, 2023
child reading

According to the CDC, one in thirty-six children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents of children with autism face unique challenges when it comes to their child's education and potential to learn.

Reading is a fundamental building block for early literacy development. Most autistic children learn to read in different ways than their neurotypical peers.

The characteristics associated with autism can impede reading comprehension. Evidence-based practices can be used to enhance comprehension.

If you're interested in strategies you can use to meet the literacy needs of a child with autism, we can help.

Here are some tips for how to teach an autistic child to read.

Follow Their Individual Interests

Consider the child's interests. What are their favorite themes, toys, or activities?

These may be as varied as birds, dinosaurs, stamps, or cupcakes. Children with autism often have very focused interests and building off of these interests can aide engagement.

Incorporate their current fascination into their learning activities. This helps capture their interest and make learning a fun experience. Adding sensory components to reading lessons can motivate children with autism.

Using something such as a sensory box or light table combined with literacy activities can enhance interest and comprehension. This is especially helpful if you're contemplating how to teach a nonverbal child with autism.  In addition, in our nonverbal children, remember they are in there, they want to communicate but often have apraxia or dyspraxia.  For these children, check out the information in the documentary, Spellers or contact a provider through Spell 2 Communicate.

Use Sight Words

Children with autism can be visual learners. Adding visual components can help them grasp the printed word and make learning easier.

Simply relying on repetition or phonetics won't work with most children with autism. Instead, focus on full printed words and repeat exposure to these words.

Use Real Photos

There's nothing wrong with using pictures from books, magazines, pictograms, or other abstract images. Many children with autism respond well to photos.

Some children with ASD have difficulty distinguishing abstract images. Using real photos and printed words can enhance comprehension. This makes the experience more fun and authentic.

Make Learning Interactive

You want a child with ASD to be engaged with the learning process. One way to accomplish this is to make reading lessons interactive.

Allow the child to turn the pages, act out the scene, and get excited about the book or lesson. For example, if there's a train, cow, or thunder in the story, encourage them to make sounds as you read the story.  This works well with our neurodiverse and neurotypical children!

Getting a child with ASD to interact with their learning content makes the process more concrete and enjoyable for them. When they're engaged, they're more likely to comprehend the lesson and retain the information.

Remove Distractions

Anyone can lose focus when there are too many distractions around. This is especially true for individuals with autism.

If you're considering how to teach a child with autism, avoid sensory overload. Make sure the learning space has soft lighting, calm colors, and minimal sound distractions.

How to Teach a Child with Autism to Read

Children with Autism may not learn comprehension skills the same way their neurotypical peers do, but they can learn. Remember to consider the child's unique strengths, cognitive abilities, and interests.

When considering how to teach an autistic child to read, the goal is to give every child with ASD the opportunity to acquire comprehension skills to their highest potential.

Dr. Nancy Ohara is a pediatrician and expert in pediatric neurobehavioral health. Before you go, be sure to take a look at the helpful information, products, and services Dr. Ohara has to offer.

Nancy O'Hara


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