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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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Kalma Arnett

says:

Excellent Tips. Thank you. I have a home school student with Autism who can individually correctly identify all letters and their sounds, but cannot blend sounds together yet to connect all the sounds in a word. For example, he’s got “c” “a” and “t” in letter and sound, but when then cannot connect them all to say “cat”. Which level would you suggest we start with him?

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to help, Kalma!

First, go over this skills assessment checklist with him. How does he do? Are there any that give him trouble? Which? I may be able to direct you to free resources to build up his skills in those areas.

This checklist goes over the Reading Readiness Skills covered in our Pre-Reading Level. When he has mastered those skills, he is ready for Level 1 of All About Reading. The first lesson teaches blending sounds into words. However, those Reading Readiness Skills, particularly the Phonological Awareness ones, are necessary for children to be ready to learn to blend.

I hope this helps! Let me know if there are any skills he needs to work on or if you have questions.

Jackie williams

says:

Grandson 7 years old reads at 6 grade level but can’t spell how can I get the spelling and writing material for him

Robin

says: Customer Service

Jackie,
I’m sorry your grandson is having trouble with spelling. While reading and spelling are related, they use very different skills, so it is somewhat common for a child to do well with reading but struggle with spelling.

The best approach is to teach spelling separately, allowing children to master it at their own pace. All About Spelling does this, and is especially helpful for those children that struggle with spelling!

Adanma Ezeogu

says:

What a great concept..I am a private tutor and one of my students has ASD. The school she is going to isn’t doing much for her to catch up with her school work…She was really struggling with phonics but she has mastered them. My struggle now is teaching her how to build words

Robin

says: Customer Service

Adanma,
I’m sorry to hear your student was struggling, but am glad to hear she is mastering phonics now.

As for building words, have you seen our Letter Tiles for Teaching Reading and Spelling? The tiles make building words very hands-on and is extremely helpful for students.

Harvey Cottrell

says:

Thank you for this information.

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Harvey. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have questions or need more information.

ginger

says:

My granddaughter has mild autism and is struggling to read. I need to know how to teach her to read and write from left to right. If you know of any resources that be great.

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your granddaughter is struggling, Ginger.

Directionality in reading is a hard concept for many children to master. Before learning letters and numbers, directionality doesn’t matter. In fact, babies and toddlers spend the first years of their lives learning that direction doesn’t change an object. They learn that a chair is a chair no matter if it is facing right, left, or even if it is upside down.

Then we teach them letters and suddenly direction matters. A b is different than a d and both are different than p. This is contrary to everything a child has learned before. Also, the left to right movement in reading English (and other European languages) is arbitrary. Some languages move right to left, and some read from top to bottom. Learning the correct directionality for your native language takes time.

I think you will find our Multisensory Teaching to be very helpful. The use of Letter Tiles so that a child can physical touch the phonograms and move their finger (along with their eyes) from left to right is very helpful to ingrain directionality.

Our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling can help.

Maggie

says:

In teaching spelling to our 11 year old grandson, we found it difficult for him to spell even when using lots of repetition. We finally allowed him to use the dictionary to look up and spell it. He no longer gets words wrong due to spelling errors. We don’t allow spellcheck but to use a dictionary. He’s much happier with his work and doesn’t dread his spelling tests.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Maggie,
Thank you for sharing how you have approached spelling with your grandson.

Ms. Brown

says:

No but he does has a learning disabilities. So I looking for other learning techniques. Would like to learned to work with children that has autism.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Ms. Brown,
Both All About Reading and All About Spelling are Orton-Gillingham based. This is a proven approach for helping students with various learning disabilities.

Let me know if you have questions about specific learning disabilities or anything else. I’m happy to help.

Beverly Fuller

says:

Have an older son with Autism.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Do you have questions I can help you with, Beverly?

Francis Weaver

says:

I would love to know how to give an assessment to my fifth grade son. He’s on the spectrum as high functioning but struggles with ADHD as well. He has such a hard time reading. It’s exhausting for him. I want to try a new program and this looks like a good fit but I would like to know where to have him start.

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to help, Francis! We have a reading placement test you can use with your son to determine which level of All About Reading he needs to start.

After you go through our reading placement test, let me know if you have questions or need additional help with placement. Note which skills he has trouble with specifically, as I may be able to refer you to free resources for building up specific skills and knowledge.

In addition to All About Reading, we also recommend starting All About Spelling. Working on spelling while working on reading is especially important for students that struggle. We keep the subjects separate, however, so students can progress at their own pace in each. Most students master reading more quickly, and we don’t want to hold back their reading progress while waiting on them to master spelling. For more information, check out this article on Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately.

You’ll find our spelling placement test here, although most students, regardless of age and grade level, need to start All About Spelling at Level 1. Occasionally, however, a student can start with Level 2.

Let me know how the placement test goes and if you have additional questions!

BigMoney

says:

Thanks a lot, Robin!! This’ll help my kid out for sure!!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome!

Uma

says:

My child is suffering from autism.we r in India helpr

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Uma. I hope you find the tips in this blog article helpful.

You may find these articles helpful as well:
10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner
Signs of a Reading Problem
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
How to Teach Phonograms
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

Please let me know if you have questions about specific concerns or difficulties.

Mpho Moeng

says:

helpful resources indeed

Joanna James

says:

Wonderful tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Joanna!

KathyMang

says:

Great concept. I am excited to try this with pre K.in general. Now and again the question of, is this child on the spectrum? Comes into my mind.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope this is helpful for you when you teach children on the spectrum, Kathy.

Bev Ascah

says:

Not telling me anything new, that is how we should teach everyone, one extra, take it at the child’s pace.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Bev. That is an excellent point, but sometimes it is forgotten.

Kaylene

says:

Love these suggestions. I no longer homeschool, or use the All About Reading program, but as an English teacher to German speaking children. Many of these ideas work for them, but I found I was instinctively using these ideas for a high-functioning autistic 13yo I was teaching English to. This just confirmed to me that my teaching technique was actually what was needed.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kaylene,
I’m pleased to hear this was reassuring to you that your teaching was on the right track.

Shaakirah Ghany

says:

Good days, My 10 year daughter is Austim and hearing imparied … she has misbehave She dont understand everything..she is little write and read.. how do i teach her at home .. please let me know if i want her to know everything what do i teach her , read,write,understand and everything … do you have zoom or googleclassroom with her?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shaakirah,
I’m sorry your 10-year-old daughter is having such difficulties. It would be best to start by addressing her hearing impairment. If she can hear more clearly with the help of hearing aids or other options, progress will be easier.

Regardless of their age, students need to master learning in the same order as children starting out at 4 or 5 years old. This means she needs to start with the Reading Readiness Skills. Does she know the letters and how to write them? Can she count syllables in a word and hear what sound a word ends with? These concepts are covered in our Reading Readiness article.

Once those concepts are mastered, she will be ready to start learning the sounds letters and phonograms make. Our How to Teach Phonograms blog post will show you all the sounds and includes free downloadable games for practicing the sound.

Once your child has learned the sounds of at least the letters, you can begin teaching her to sound out words. The Helping Kids Sound Out Words article will be helpful.

I hope this helps some.

Jennifer Park

says:

Please my son struggles with going to school and does not want to go. He is 20 years old adhd ptsd separation anxiety disorder anxiety and autistic pdd on the spectrum and odd. He is extremely delayed cannot read or spell. I need help. I don’t want to put him in a program. I guess I will homeschool although I’m nervous and not sure my patience will allow me but I don’t want my son to suffer.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
It is understandable to be nervous. If you have questions or concerns, please ask. We are happy to help as much as we can. We can be reached at support@allaboutlearningpress.com.

Sherry

says:

This is a great program that has helped both of my Austic children learn to read

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is wonderful, Sherry! Thank you for letting us know that All About Reading was helpful for your children’s reading success.

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.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I have the greatest sympathies for classroom teachers, Kim. All too often they have little or no say in how they teach any given subject or what curriculum they are allowed to use.

But yes, there is a lack of knowledge in learning differences with the people making decisions for classrooms.

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.