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.
Some ideas surrounding and including reading instruction include:
|Characteristic of AS||Instead of ........||Try ............|
|Deficits in social interaction||Think, pair, share||Think, write, pair, share or script this activity. Use readers' theatre|
|Difficulty reading nonverbal social behaviors||Collaborative groups||Teach facial expressions related to emotions and unstated thoughts using a text with a character profile of interest to the individual with AS|
|Difficulty initiating, participating in and sustaining peer relationships||Collaborative groups and book clubs||Define, teach and assign roles of group members prior to stating the demands of group work|
|Lack of sharing their own interests and reciprocating with sharing interests of others||
Exploration of genres
Popcorn Reading or volunteer participation in class discussion
Offer students a list of timeframes and genres for the semester or year (they may need to prepare for these changes in content)
Offer a speaker pass to define reciprocal classroom participation - some students with AS may need forewarning to develop their response prior to being called upon (scripted partcipation)
|Social/emotional reciprocity (perspective and point of view of others)||Character development (including point of view)||
Teach, write together and read/use social narratives.
Role play and scrip chracters related to the student's story-based profile; help link the character to elements of people they know (may need to be visually represented in a graphic organizer)
|Engages in restrictive and repetitive behaviors||Classroom managed by expectation of uniformity and conformity||Plan for students to differ according to their regulatory needs|
|Develops routines and rituals||Fast-paced transitions from one reading-related task to another||
Give timeframes for tasks.
Gauge work with time and ability (how many questions does the student really need to answer to demonstrate knowledge of the content)
Use visual timers, songs, or countdowns to cue transitions.
Designate a place for unfinished work and mark it with a note as to when it should be completed
|Preoccupied with the parts, rather than the whole||
Teach and encourage the use of graphic organizers that link the parts and the whole (letters to words; introduction, rising action, climax and closing to plot; age, gender, personality, mood, etc., to character)
Encourage placement of parts into a visual structure that represents a whole, with the expectation that the whole will be named.
|Demonstrates difficulty with executive functioning||
title based assignments (e.g., "for homework tonight do your journal....")
Break assignments into steps and provide in writing
Present directions in writing
Teach the use of graphic organizers, guided notes, outlining and highlighting text
Remember: Students with AS hve typical oral language development and often advanced vocabulary acquisition, especially in their area of interest. They also have no notable dely in cognition or adaptive behavior/daily living skills.
Use These Strengths in the Development of Reading Strategies
Using this alignment framework, in addition to the development and outlining of roles that comes with collaboration among content teachers, intervention specialists, administrators, paraprofessionals, parents and students, makes the teaching of reading for students with AS feasible and beneficial for all who partake.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.