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Teaching Reading and Spelling to Autistic Children

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

Autism can present a broad range of challenges, especially when it comes to learning. Although autism doesn’t always affect a child’s ability to learn, it often affects the way a child learns. And that can be especially important when it’s time to teach an autistic child to read and spell.

Kids with Autism Learn Differently

Autistic kids often have difficulty learning in traditional ways because their brains just don’t process information in the same way that other children’s do. They are wired differently.

For example, many autistic children are visual thinkers—they think in pictures instead of words. Other autistic children learn better through sound, and still others learn best with touch. Many have problems getting sequences to stick in their memory banks, like long strings of words, numbers, or multi-step instructions. And differentiating between certain sounds can be difficult for the autistic child, which makes learning to read especially hard.

If this description sounds like your child, I have good news. When you use simple, step-by-step, multisensory techniques that actively engage children in the learning process, teaching your child to read and spell does not have to be a daunting task.

Autistic boy using All About Reading
Hands-on activities engage your child in the lessons.

6 Tips for Teaching Children with Autism

Here are six teaching tips to help you teach reading and spelling to your child.

1. Use Direct Instruction

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Use Multisensory Techniques

Since autistic children do not all learn in the same way, it is important to teach every lesson using sight, sound, and touch. Visual learners like to see what they are learning. Auditory learners prefer to hear oral instructions and then discuss what they have learned to solidify the material. Hands-on learners absorb knowledge best when they can touch and manipulate objects.

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

A magnetic white board with moveable letters works wonders for both kinesthetic and visual learners. Saying the word or letter out loud is important for auditory learners. Actively forming the letters in sand or rice, or tracing the shape of the letter on a textured surface like sandpaper or velvet, is another effective technique for some children. And allowing your child to choose his own favorite textured surface makes the activity that much more engaging.

Since many autistic children also have difficulty with fine motor control and need easy, simple, and repeated activities to help them develop this skill, these types of kinesthetic exercises will help in this area, too.

5. Provide Concrete Examples

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

Also, many autistic children cannot 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.

6. Reward Your Child’s Progress

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

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 Autistic Children

“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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Leave a Comment

alberta baxter

says:

I love that this program is multi-sensory. This works well for my son who has a reading level far below where he is supposed to be.

Jessica

says:

interesting – thanks

Brenda

says:

I am truely amazed how wonderful the package is. I will be buying more soon.

Leigh

says:

Wow! So excited to start this program with my son.

Susan

says:

Do you have any materials for teaching a child with Down’s Syndrome to read. She is 18 and read some three letter words but we are not giving up. She knows letter recognition and sounds well.
THank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
Earlier this spring we featured a guest blogger using All About Reading to teach her Down Syndrome son to read. I’m sure the blog post will be encouraging to you, and Jennifer has been great about answer questions and comments to that post.

Henry Lao

says:

This strategies will be much helpfull to school children in the mainstream settings. Thanks so much

Katy

says:

I will be sharing this post with a friend who is concerned about homeschooling her son with autism. Thank you for addressing this. I know it will be helpful to many families!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katy,
I hope this helps your friend. Please let her know that she is welcome to contact us with an additional questions she may have as well.

Gina Zapata

says:

Thank you for these suggestions. I have used all about spelling and reading. I have found them to be most effective. We just found out my youngest is autistic and I love this information

Amber S

says:

Thanks for the tips, looking forward to using the programs for my son!

Shannon Soehl

says:

I have found AAS has worked GREAT with both of my boys with Autism. No other spelling program comes close to keeping them actively engaged!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is great to hear. Thank you, Shannon!

Betsy L. McNeil

says:

Please share information for an eleven-year-old male now in the sixth grade……..needs materials for reading; especially Bible lessons, language arts, and science lessons. I will appreciate your help. I feel so helpless and sad for this student who has been enrolled in my Bible and science classes. My first opportunity to work with a student with autism. I have no records of previous testing nor accomplished work…Please help me.

Betsy McNeil at brlmcneil@aol.com

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I emailed you, Betsy.

Heidi I

says:

I’m really fascinated to learn more about this method, it seems like a no brainier since comprehension of the root word leads to better understanding of our vocabulary and spelling in general😄 I’m new to homeschooling and am a little overwhelmed by all the curriculum options out there, but I think this may be a good one to start with, thanks for the opportunity to possibly win it👍

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Heidi,
Let me know if you have any questions!

Patsy Foy

says:

I recently started using AAS Level 1 with my 10 yr old daughter. She has multiple special needs including HFA. She absolutely hated spelling & would get very emotional with every lesson. Now that we’re using AAS, she asks if we can do spelling first. But what’s even more remarkable is that the phonograms app has even helped with her articulation to the point that the speech therapist asked what we were doing differently. Thank you so much for having a wonderful line of products that has boosted my daughter’s confidence & took the struggle out of spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Patsy,
This is truly wonderful! Thank you for letting us know the remarkable confidence your daughter has gained. I’ll be passing this along to the entire AALP team to read!

Carrie Hubbard

says:

I began homeschooling my ASD daughter in 4th grade. She struggled with reading and spelling. I went back to level one with both AAS and AAR. I wasn’t sure she would ever become a fluent reader or develop a love for reading because it was such a struggle. After 3 years she has completed level 4 AAR and level 5 AAS and reads ALL the time in her spare moments voluntarily. The correlation between the concepts in spelling and reading made all the difference and the incremental steps with review in the sentence dictation for spelling keep the many concepts fresh. I could not be more pleased with her progress. Thank you!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Carrie,
This is wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know about your daughter’s progression to a child that reads all the time.

Hi Marie
I love your article! It so clearly explains the need for teaching each child in the way THEY learn. Thankyou!
I am the Australian distributor of Math-U-See, and love the way we also teach in a multi sensory way – but maths instead of english :-)
I’ve heard great reports of your program from a colleague here who uses it with her daughters, and would love to share this in the hope of further supporting families of children with autism. Would you be happy for me to share this article with Australian homeschooling families currently on my database?

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Esther,
Thank you for all you do!

Yes, you can reprint the full article. Please add this at the end:
For more resources for teaching reading and spelling, please visit http://www.AllAboutLearningPress.com, home of the All About Spelling and All About Reading programs (c) 2016 All About Learning Press, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Edda Vargas

says:

These suggestions are useful for ADHD children as well, right?

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Edda,
Yes! Because these suggestions are useful for all students. Teaching one concept at a time, directly, in a step-by-step manner, using all three learning senses, with explicit examples is going to help anyone learn. And this works for kids that have learning struggles and for kids that are advanced and for kids in between, because our programs are designed to move at each child’s unique learning pace.

Elizabeth

says:

I am looking forward to trying this with my son. He is not diagnosed as autistic but has some characteristics.

Melody

says:

I previewed your level one program from a homeschooling friend. I loved the cards and easy to follow text. However, my personal health challenges (which are greatly improving now) and my middle son’s angry Aspergers outburst (also improving) have kept us held waaaaay back on spelling and reading. He’s now older and I’m feeling completely lost and a failure. Finding a spelling program to buff up spelling in early teen years has been a challenge.

Could you direct me to the best level for his spelling? He tested as reading between the 6-8 grade levels but he’s too frustrated when he gets a “wrong” answer and will completely shut down. We have some new techniques in play for understanding that we need to fail to learn. But it’s still a huge issue.

We’ve had so much more success with your program but my friend needed it back and I’ve been failing with another program this year that added more dictation (which he’s actually fine with now). He hates being below his grade level (which surprises me since we homeschooled his whole life and haven’t stressed levels being anything but a stepping stone to success. But he picked it up along the way and won’t let it go. 😪

Any tips are appreciated and helpful please. I need a success for them! ☺️

I also have a sensory processing delayed son that will do better win this program as well but he was tutored for a year but still can’t remember much. Maybe the funnel issue came into play here.

Can’t wait to try the program at the appropriate levels for them both!!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Melody,
We recommend that most students start with level 1 to build a strong foundation in spelling.

All About Spelling is a building block program with each level building upon the previous one. The rules and concepts learned in Level 1 are applied in Level 2, and then those are applied in Level 3, and so on. Placement for spelling is based on the student’s knowledge of spelling rules and concepts rather than grade level, reading level, or the words a student has memorized.

For example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like “cat” and “kid” but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher level words such as “concentrate.” Other students switch letters or leave out letters entirely. This usually occurs because they don’t know how to hear each sound in the word. Level 1 has specific techniques to solve these problems.

The article Should We Start in Level 1 or Level 2? has more information on the concepts taught in level 1 and will help you decide the appropriate starting level.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we don’t recommend starting higher than level 2.

We encourages parents and teachers to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that he already knows and slow down on the parts that he needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught, and then move on. This blog article has a good example of how you might fast track. This article discusses how to approach starting at level 1 or 2 with older students as well.

Diana M

says:

My 13yo son has Asperger’s Syndrome and was a late reader. Once he determined that reading WAS important to HIM (so he could play video games) his reading level skyrocketed. He is still a reluctant reader but he can read when required.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Diana,
Motivation goes a long way! Thanks for sharing what motivated your son.

Tatyana Chelnokov

says:

My Son is really struggling in reading it would be nice to win 😊

Ann Hoffmann

says:

Thank you for the wonderful product!

Miranda

says:

Hopefully this will help me with my daughter. Reading and spelling are the 2 areas I worry about as they are the ones I struggled with as a kid.

Becki

says:

AAR and AAS has been a big help to our older kids (ages 10 and 9), one who has autism. Kiddo #3 is just starting AAR, but I’m already looking ahead to kiddo #4. He has autism and hyperlexia. He hasn’t gotten to the point of teaching himself how to read, but he did do letters on his own, and is now identifying initial letters from words. I think AAR will be the first official curriculum that we start with him.

Emily C.

says:

My 9-year-old son with Asperger’s is about to complete his first year of homeschool (3rd grade), and we were very happy with our choice of AOS to help round out our ELA studies. My son has always been a good speller, but in mainstream school he always got a big fat ZERO on spelling tests because the approach to spelling (both in learning and assessments) was simultaneously boring and frustrating for him. I wanted to include a spelling program in our curriculum as a way to take a skill he’s actually quite good at naturally (the spelling itself) but which has many components that he struggles with (listening with focus, following instructions with few prompts, and, his least favorite thing: writing.) We love the logical step-by-step method of AOS– it makes SENSE to him– and the ease of tailoring it to both his strengths and challenges. The visual component, with a magnetic white-board, is great. It really helps to engage him on days when he’s not feeling motivated to participate. He really enjoys discussing concepts as he learns, so the teaching sections are engaging and interesting to him– so much better than spelling programs that are just about memorizing lists of words. I’ve seen so much growth from him this year, and AOS was a part of that. Before AOS, in public school, he flat-out refused to take dictation, which meant his spelling tests were completely blank, even if he knew how to spell every word. Now, after a year of AOS, he not only happily takes dictation, but enjoys expanding on the phrases and sentences to entertain and impress me. AOS has allowed us to really stretch so many different skills that he was struggling with at public school. For us, this wasn’t just a spelling program– it was also about stretching all those executive skills that are such a big part of being able to learn and grow.

Emily C.

says:

Don’t know why I kept typing “AOS” in my comment– should be “AAS” !

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Emily,
Thank you for sharing all the ways AAS has helped stretch your son in both his strengths and weaknesses. It sounds like he is doing great!

Kelly

says:

Very helpful.

Shannon S

says:

This is the only spelling program that has worked for both of my boys who have Autism. I will never use another spelling program!

CeAnne Kosel

says:

But where is the math program?! :)

Katina

says:

Have you considered Math U See? They are a very popular multi-sensory math program. Plus it’s mastery and not spiral – I found my son with Asperger became quite board with spiral math programs.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

CeAnne,
We don’t offer a math program. However, we do have some recommendations:

Marie had one student who struggled with math, and one who did well. Teaching Textbooks worked well for her struggling student, so that’s one you might look into. Abeka Consumer Math also worked well for her struggler. Her student who did well in math used Aleks.

My co-worker, Merry, used Horizons in the elementary years, and Math-U-See for Pre-algebra and above. She doesn’t know if MUS would have worked for her kids in elementary years (she considered and rejected it several times because it didn’t seem like a match at those ages), but it’s been great at the upper levels.

Only one of my children has really struggled in math, and I moved him into Math-U-See in 6th grade. It allowed him to finally be successful with math, although it’s still not easy for him.

Marie always liked Singapore because it fit her style, but not her kids’ as much. Merry had the same experience; she liked it but it didn’t fit her kids. However, I used Singapore in the elementary years for all my kids, at least up to level 5 when a couple of them have transitioned to something else (one to Math-U-See, the other to Life of Fred).

There are SO many options out there, it can be overwhelming! When I evaluate programs I look at several things:
What worked about what we used previously–did we like anything?
What didn’t work and why?
What do I need as a teacher from a math program? (Do I need scripting, examples, teaching helps etc…)
What do my students need? (Think about visual layout, color vs. black & white, mom-taught vs. computer or dvd teacher, manipulatives, and so on).

Look at samples online (or in person if possible), and let your kids look at them. When Merry’s son was 7, she showed him a new math program. He compared it to the one we had been using (which wasn’t working), and then said (of the one they were using), “The writers of this math book don’t want children to understand math.” She still laughs about that today! But obviously, what she was using wasn’t working for his learning style!

Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right program. I hope this helps!

L

says:

I’ve been using this with special needs kids and have been very pleased so far.

Claire

says:

Thank you for posting this! As a teacher, I’m always trying to use best practice to help my students of all abilities. All the methods you have posted on your blog are practical and easy to implement right away. I’m always looking forward to reading your blog!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Claire. We are happy to be helpful!

Denise

says:

We are excited about the spelling and reading program for our children with special needs! Hope we can win a new level! Mama2-4

Kate

says:

Love your curriculum reading and spelling. I do not have autistic children but I do have many children with sensory disorder or learning disabilities. My seven year old daughter, who seems to have to resound out simple words all the time still receives all the phonics rules and tips in reading but yet has enough practice of each of the words to improve her short term memory which allows her to better retain the words. So great. My 10 year old daughter no longer sounds out words backwards ever since we started with all about spelling.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Kate,
Thank you for sharing this.

You brought up a great point. One of the things that Marie noticed when she was researching reading programs is that few programs have enough review built in for kids who struggle to gain fluency. That is why AAR has fluency sheets or a story to be read with every lesson, so children can practice reading smoothly with expression and confidence.

Pam

says:

Im glad they have curriculum to help them

Jean R

says:

Good to know.

Tatyana

says:

This is Exactly what I need for my six year old 😍

Tiff

says:

I absolutely love this program

Shontae

says:

My son is Dyslexic and All about spelling has been such a blessing to use. He is not frustrated with the lessons and is doing amazing in reading since beginning to use it.

Bianca Munoz

says:

This a very great post! I have a friend who I’ll send this too. Thank you for the information!

mohd razali

says:

I like this…help my son improve english learning. One of my family’s activity eachday make a spelling quiz,hope it can make it more fun .

I think this would help my granddaughter tremendously in school.

This is exactly what I need for my granddaughter.

My granddaughter is really struggling in school. I think All about reading and spelling may just be what she needs.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jeanne,
I’m sorry to hear your granddaughter is struggling. Let us know if you have an specific questions.

M Bohac

says:

Definitely going to share this with my friend who has an autistic son and with my sister who is a teacher and just finished a course on autism. Looking forward to using this program next year with two of my children!

SL

says:

I like it how it uses he OG approach; just the way I have learnt from the instructor.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Yes! Orton Gillingham really is the way to go.

Kim

says:

This is so very helpful!

SarahV

says:

What a wonderful resource!

MOLLY BYERS

says:

Love the program.

Susanna Lanier

says:

commenting to win a level! ;)

C

says:

Thanks for all the great info!

Belen

says:

I use this for my 1st grader and it’s great!

Tisha

says:

Great information!

Jessica The B Keeps Us Honest

says:

Thanks for all the great tips!

Judith Martinez

says:

I’ve found a hands on, mastery based approach to be great for all of my children. Depending on their learning style they give up the hands on portion of our curriculum at different ages but all of them have been helped by it.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Yes! I have found the same thing, Judith.

Melody

says:

How do u do a hands on approach for a middle schooler though that doesn’t seem so “baby” to them. I assume writing it would be good. But manipulation is maybe more the key. Thanks for any tips you can share. ☺️

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melody,
The tiles that All About Spelling and All About Reading uses provide a lot of hands on, without seeming overly “young”. This is especially true when using them for working on syllable division rules, as the act of physically dividing words into syllables using the rules is a powerful learning tool.

There are many ways to add hands on for a middle schooler in other subjects as well. Science can have lots of experimentation and History can have lots of map work, building models, maybe even reenactments!

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