View Resource

Evidence Based Reading Instruction for Individuals with Autism spectrum Disorders

by Whalon, K.J., Al Otaiba, S., and Delano, M.E.

Objective: This article is a review of reading instruction literature as it pertains to students with autism spectrum disorders, ages 4-17.

Method:  The authors analyzed published research in reading instruction for students with ASD.  Research included in this analysis met the following criteria: the research was published in a peer reviewed journal, had one or more participants, and described techniques and strategies that tested the effectiveness of reading interventions. Three different intervention styles were analyzed and discussed in detail in this review of the literature.  They were code-focused computer assisted interventions, meaning-focused (group or one on one interventions), and multi-component interventions.

Results: In research of code-focused interventions, students were exposed to “rule based” reading skills while using a computer assisted reading program.  Targeted skills included the following:  sight word identification, phonemic awareness, spelling, and creation of sentences when presented a picture stimulus.  All students with ASD, regardless of their level of functioning were able to make gains in reading, spelling, and phonemic awareness when exposed to computer-based code-focused interventions. 

Research on meaning-focused interventions pertaining to peer-mediated group and one on one reading interventions were also analyzed in this review.  In the peer mediated groups, students were given instruction from a teacher as a group and then had peer group follow up.  Student made gains in answering questions regarding the story. In the one on one reading interventions students were shown index cards and the student had to act out or point to a picture that matched the word on the card.  Results from these studies suggest that students with autism can make gains in meaning-focused interventions through group instruction and one on one instruction.

Multi-component interventions were also analyzed in this study.  There were two studies that looked at the impact of class wide peer tutoring on fluency and reading comprehension for students with ASD.  The results of these studies suggest that peer-mediated interventions were effective in increasing students’ oral fluency and responding to reading comprehension questions.

Conclusion: Given the learning profile of most students with autism in addition to review of the current reading literature, the authors suggest that reading instruction should include both code-focused interventions (phonics, spelling,  and sight word work) as well as meaning focused interventions (reading comprehension).  Both of the elements seem to be needed to achieve the best outcome for reading instruction efforts for students with ASD.


Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities