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Teaching Reading and Spelling to Children with Autism

Are you teaching a child with autism how to read or spell? If so, you need this post!

Children with autism often have difficulty learning to read and spell using standard methods because their brains process information in unique ways.

For example, some children with autism think in pictures instead of words. Many have problems recalling strings of words or multi-step instructions. And differentiating between certain sounds can be difficult for those with autism, which can make learning to read especially difficult.

Fortunately, our step-by-step, multisensory techniques actively engage children in the learning process and make learning to read and spell much easier.

6 Tips for Teaching Kids with Autism

Following are six important tips for teaching children with autism how to read and spell.

  1. Provide Concrete Examples

    Children with autism often have difficulty processing abstract ideas. Color-coded letter tiles provide concrete examples of reading and spelling concepts.

    Also, autism can make it impossible to process excessive verbal input. Demonstrating blending and segmenting using letter tiles allows the child to understand the process without being overwhelmed with long verbal explanations.

  2. Use Direct Instruction

    Teaching Reading and Spelling to Autistic Children - All About Learning Press

    With direct instruction, lessons are carefully sequenced and explicit. The student is told exactly what he needs to know. Each reading and spelling lesson should include three simple steps:

    • A review of what was learned the day before
    • New teaching of a single concept
    • A short practice of the new teaching
  3. Focus on Incremental Lessons

    Break every skill down into its most basic steps and then teach the lessons in a logical order, carrying your child from one concept or skill to the next. Each step should build on steps your child has already mastered, ensuring that there are no gaps.

  4. Teach One New Concept at a Time

    When teaching children their letters, start with the phonograms and teach them the ones that are easiest to learn and that they can put to immediate use, like M, S, P, and A. Teaching one concept at a time respects the child’s funnel and helps learning stick. It also helps keep lessons short.

  5. Use Multisensory Techniques

    All About Reading curriculum on whiteboard

    Teach every lesson using sight, sound, and touch. For example, using moveable letters engages both the kinesthetic and visual pathways to the brain, and saying the sounds aloud engages the auditory pathway.

    You can also have your child form letters in salt or rice, or trace the shape of the letters on the textured surface of his choice, such as velvet or sandpaper. This is especially helpful if your child has difficulty with fine motor control and needs simple and repeated activities to help develop this skill.

  6. Pay Attention to Reading Comprehension

    Many children with autism learn how to decode words quickly and easily, but they have difficulty with comprehension. If your child is a literal thinker, it may be difficult for her to understand concepts like words with multiple meanings or making predictions or understanding character motivation.

    To help, work on developing listening comprehension using the tips in 4 Great Ways to Build Listening Comprehension. This post on How to Teach Reading Comprehension also has great information on how to help your child understand what she is reading.

  7. Place Your Student According to Ability, Not Grade Level

    Set your child up for success with a mastery-based approach to learning. This approach lets you to meet your child right where he is and allows you to teach at your child’s pace instead of at a rigid pace set by a curriculum. Some children with autism learn in huge leaps—learning many literacy concepts almost all at once—while others need time to fully digest a lesson before progressing. By using a mastery-based approach, your child can move as quickly or as slowly as he need to.

  8. Reward Your Child’s Progress

    Happy girl holding completed All About Reading progress chart

    It is important to make the lessons mastery-based and to include a visual way for your child to mark her progress, such as a chart where she can paste stars for each lesson learned.

    And don’t forget to use words of encouragement every step of the way. Simple encouragement like “Good job!” or “You did great!” or “Excellent!” goes a long way toward building confidence and self-esteem in children, motivating them to keep learning.

Notes from Parents of Children with Autism

“When our twins were diagnosed with autism, we knew that we needed to play to their strengths in looking for curriculum. I quickly discovered that they do better when they are naturally motivated to engage. All About Reading and All About Spelling do just that, and the programs scream “autism-friendly.” This is wonderful curriculum!” – Cindy, mother of two children with autism, and blogger at My Life as a Rinnagade

“My mildly autistic son struggled severely in school. Watching him flounder was breaking my heart, so I pulled him out to home school. We were recommended to All About Reading and All About Spelling by a random acquaintance. I love your products! We have done All About Reading Levels 1-3. The stories are so engaging! My son always asks to do reading first because he knows he will be reading a great story or doing a fun activity. THANK YOU for this amazing product!” – Jessica

“My 13-year-old nonverbal, autistic son is spelling and writing thanks to All About Spelling!! I had initially bought this to use with my 10-year-old who has difficulty with spelling, but when I saw the materials I thought, Hey, I can modify this to use with Matthew (my 13-year-old). I am so thankful for your program! I would love to share this story with other moms of special needs children in case they are wondering, as I was, if this would work for their child.” – Tara

Does your child have autism? What has helped for reading and spelling instruction? Let me know in the comments below!

Photographs by Cindy Rinna and Jill M.

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Kim

says:

This is great information! With how many people are being diagnosed with autism now it’s no wonder that kids struggle since teachers are not equipped with the knowledge to teach people who learn differently.

Connie Le

says:

Teaching students with autism is more common in my classroom than ever before. I love how this program teaches direct and systematic instruction with multisensory techniques.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you find the program helpful for your students, Connie!

KAYLEE

says:

Lots of details and information, I will be going through a lot more of these articles as well over the next few days.

Lizet G

says:

Free Resources are very helpful, thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lizet.

Kim Bailey

says:

Such an exciting program for a teacher! Finally a way to reach ALL of my students where they are and take them to where they need to be!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Kim!

Shelly Moorhouse

says:

Yes! AAR and AAS helped my daughter with Autism learn to read and spell well!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Shelly!

Christian N

says:

The daily review is a big help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So true, Christian! Ongoing review helps ensure that everything sticks!

Katharine Gindin

says:

It’s touching to read the comments from parents.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Katharine.

Brea

says:

Number 6 is so important! My oldest who has autism is now in college, but when he was young, he could read far above what he could comprehend. He would read the words correctly, but have no idea what he just read. Homeschooling him was a journey for sure. I didn’t have All About Reading for him, but I am glad to have it for my younger kids.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Brea. Thanks for sharing.

Bryanna McManus

says:

Great tips! Very helpful.

Gail Timmer

says:

I have used AAS in my lessons with kids with differences of all kinds. It is very helpful at this time because some many children missed so much school. Teaching spelling rules has not been a priority for my grand girls teachers. I need to step in and winning a level would be great!

Amanda Gustafson

says:

This is a great methodical spelling program that both kids and parents can use and appreciate!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Amanda!

Kristina

says:

My 9 year old son has been diagnosed with Dyslexia and after a lot of research into the best program to use for our homeschool, we have decided that All About Reading is the best around.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Kristina!

mackenzie Kendra

says:

I have a nephew with autisum This is very interesting to read

Anna Horgan

says:

Very helpful. Thanks ☺️

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad this is helpful, Anna!

Sheri

says:

All About Spelling has given our young speller confidence and a love for spelling. We love the letters tile app. Perfect for our homeschool classroom.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that All About Spelling is helping your child enjoy spelling, Sheri!

Kaylon

says:

All about spelling took my son from crying and hating spelling. Not able to spell, to being able to write sentences spelt all correctly!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This was wonderful to read, Kaylon! It’s exciting to know that All About Spelling helped your son to be successful with spelling.

Katrina Brown

says:

All About Spelling is a wonderful product! We started with the tiles on the whiteboard and also use the app.

Michelle R

says:

Thanks for the tips! It will definitely help when I’m teaching my 2 kids on the spectrum.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Michelle. I’m glad this will be helpful for you.

Kimberly

says:

This program has been a game changer for our son who is autistic! We love it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Kimberly! I’m so glad it has made a difference for your son.

Emily Troutman

says:

A great article!

stephanie donaghe

says:

My son is not diagnosed autism but is considered borderline because he exhibits so many similarities. Homeschooling can be challenging at times. This year we are using memoria press but the struggle is great. I have already decided to try this program next year.

Jacqueline J. Esteron

says:

This is a very helpful article. Thank you!

Judith Martinez

says:

I have one child with autism and a second that may have it. I taught my son with autism the very basic sounds and he took off on his own. My daughter that I suspect has autism struggled to learn how to read. These techniques would likely help a lot of children learn to read more readily.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear you think these techniques will be helpful for children learning to read, Judith. Thank you.

Beth J.

says:

These are great tips! Thanks!

Anita

says:

An interesting article, thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Anita.

Sarah S

says:

This is a very informative article. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sarah. I’m glad you found this informative.

Pati

says:

We have a non-verbal six year old ASD boy. Also has a little ADHD. Will this really work for him? Does it satisfy homeschool cirriuculm for most states?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Pati,
All About Reading does satisfy homeschooling requirements for reading and phonics instruction in all states of the US.

However, it’s hard to say whether All About Reading would work for him right now. Ideally, for the reading program, you really need to be able to hear him read in order to understand and help him with the mistakes he’s making.

For example, an activity like pointing out “which word is SNOW” isn’t as difficult for a student as reading the word SNOW. So unfortunately it isn’t sufficient to have him identify the word; he does need to be able to sound it out and read it.

I wonder if his speech therapist would have any ideas for how to know if he is able to read the words, even if he doesn’t say the words aloud?

If he was a bit older and writing letters well, I’d be tempted to try All About Spelling, because then he could write words instead of having to read them. Sometimes older students who are non-verbal find that the spelling program is a key for unlocking reading for them as a “back-door” kind of approach. It’s hard to say whether that program might work for your son now though. In the spelling program, your son would be focusing on building words with tiles or writing words rather than reading out loud to you. It’s possible that would be easier to modify for him (and if your son can spell the word, he has the phonics skills to be able to read those same words.) See Tara’s comment in the Green Box in this article. Most of the time, we don’t recommend teaching spelling before a student completes All About Reading 1, but again, it might be worth considering in your son’s case if he is already writing letters well.

I also wonder whether Pre-reading might be a better fit for him. The Ziggy puppet often motivates kids to speak or to repeat after the puppet. Many children respond to the puppet when they wouldn’t necessarily respond to an adult. Also, the games and activities in the Language Exploration section can help students develop some of their social skills. For young children with any disability, teaching time woven into playful activities is very motivational. One of Marie Rippel’s main goals with our Pre-reading program is to motivate children to want to learn to read, and playful activities are a big part of that.

A few years ago, we heard from the mom of an 8-year-old who was on the autism spectrum use All About Reading Pre-reading and the mom said it was very helpful for him, so it’s worth considering. Have you seen this article on the Big Five Skills? That discusses the skills that Pre-reading teaches and could help you decide whether he would be ready for a reading program like All About Reading level 1, or if he might benefit from the activities in Pre-reading.

Have you looked at the online samples? That might also help you decide whether Pre-reading would be beneficial. Take a look especially at the Language Exploration sections in the Teacher’s Manual sample, and see what you think.

All About Reading level 1 starts right off with reviewing the sounds of 4 letters at a time, having the student blend and read words using those letters, and reading a story by the third lesson. So, it really assumes the student has mastered all of the concepts from Pre-reading (as shown through the readiness checklist) and is ready to start reading.

Here’s a Pre-reading checklist that can help you decide if he would be ready to start that level. Also, the checklist may also give you some additional ideas of activities to do with your son. For students who are only able to parrot language, you may find some of the exercises are out of the child’s reach or that you will need to do lots of modeling and have the student repeat. It may depend on how profound your son’s autism difficulties are.

If your son is completely non-verbal and not parroting yet, you would only be able to model what to do with Pre-reading, and I’m not sure if that would be helpful at this stage. It may be more beneficial when he’s a bit older and is at least able to parrot.

I wish I could give you a definitive answer! But hopefully, this gives you some things to consider as you decide how to proceed.

If you do decide to try one of our programs, we would love to hear how it goes for you. Also, do know that we have a “Go Ahead and Use It” One-Year Guarantee. If you find that the curriculum does not meet your needs, simply return the materials at any time within one year of purchase for a full refund of your purchase price, excluding shipping.

Pam

says:

Hi, where do I find ” All about spelling”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Pam,
All About Spelling is available through our website and through some additional retailers.

However, your email address leads me to think you are in Australia. Please note that all international shipments have been temporarily suspended because of COVID-19 restrictions. We’ll resume shipping to Australia when the restrictions have lifted.

You may be able to order from a retailer closer to Australia. There is Educational Warehouse in Highland Park, QLD. If they don’t have what you need, you can also try Engaging Minds Ltd in Hawera, NZ.

You can also order from us using a freight forwarder such as MyUS. Check out their video, How MyUS Works.

You could also try a retailer that can ship to Australia. Rainbow Resource carries All About Reading, All About Spelling, and All About Homophones, and they ship worldwide. Timberdoodle also carries our materials and they ship to many countries. Conquest Books in the UK and they ship to Europe and some other locations.

Thanks for your interest! Please let me know if you need help with placement or anything else.

Ramyasri

says:

Hi My son is going to be 6. And is mild in spectrum. He is good at most of the thing like his peer group. But he is struggling with reading. We are from India. We don’t have much ways to help him. Can you suggest any ways to make him read. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is having such difficulties, Ramyasri.

Start with teaching him phonograms. Once he has the sounds of the letters down, and a few other phonograms like SH, TH, CH, CK, NG, and Nk, move on to helping him sound out words. Learning phonograms and sounding out words works much more effectively for many learners than memorizing words.

I hope this helps some.