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How to Teach Reading to Individuals with Asperger Syndrome

By — Autism Society
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

Traditionally, classroom literacy instruction is rooted in content indicators for each grade level. This content is manifest in classroom activities, such as phonics instruction, spelling lessons, word work, vocabulary instruction, exploration of genres, character development (including point of view), plot mapping, readers’ theatre, book clubs, etc. The research tells us that we need to include time to reflect upon literature in order to establish comprehension. Students need to build links to schema in order to process, reflect and apply lessons learned from text that has been read. Students must demonstrate the flexibility in application and use of tools that school-wide activities and assessments require to demonstrate proficiency, such as true/false questions, cloze activities, graphic organizers, note taking, collaborative groups, etc. Many of these activities provide inlets to measure knowledge acquisition for each student. The outcomes of these skills are then measured through classroom projects and assignments, and data is collected. The data then leads teachers back through the maze of planning and instruction for daily classroom routines.

Learning Differences of Students with AS

However, what if the traditional classroom tools and activities that target the learning needs of most students were not well received by some? What if these same students have gifts and talents in many areas of language arts content, but struggle sharing their knowledge with outsiders? What if the traditional data analysis and re-teaching to skill gaps process was misleading because the need for prerequisite skills seems not to impact the development of higher level skills?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) offers characteristics of Asperger Syndrome (AS) that include deficits in social interaction, such as building peer relationships, reading nonverbal social cues, sharing perspectives of the interests of others, social and emotional reciprocity, the understanding of part-to-whole alignment and executive/occupational functioning. Individuals with AS also rely on routines and rituals that provide stability in environments that can seem unpredictable. Many of these routines and rituals clash and, at times, contradict the daily expectations and instructional strategies used in classrooms today.

Reading Strategies for Students with AS

The awareness of instructional needs and the willingness to change is coming together in the face of high-stakes testing, data-driven instruction and the application of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in schools around the nation. To that end, let’s take a look at the process for reading instruction for individuals with AS, beginning with acquisition of phonics and moving into word work. Many students with AS appear to learn by osmosis, especially related to topics of interest. Some may in fact learn to read/recognize words prior to formal phonics instruction. This does not necessary mean that they do not need to learn phonics rules; these concepts are necessary for more than simply decoding during reading. Word patterns in spelling related to the area of writing may require remedial or initial phonics instruction. However, it does change the way we view reading instruction for this population of learners. The links between characteristics of AS, strengths of individuals with AS and instructional strategies used to teach students with AS must align.

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