Setting a Foundation for Literacy and Reading for Autistic Individuals: A Step by Step Guide - Autism Awareness
Child learning to read and literacy skills with ASD

Setting a Foundation for Literacy and Reading for Autistic Individuals: A Step by Step Guide

This article is based on one written by Leslie Broun, M.Ed.

September was national literacy month, and every year I am reminded of my own journey teaching both of my autistic children to read. Reading is a skill that has brought my son, Marc, an amazing amount of joy and fulfillment; however, teaching a child with autism to read isn’t always an easy thing to do. Unlike many children for whom reading is an almost intrinsic skill, many children with ASD need explicit activities that lead to eventual reading ability.

We were fortunate to have had Leslie Broun present at some of our conferences for the Autism Awareness Centre. These are her steps for developing literacy skills from an early age.

Seven steps towards literacy and reading for those with ASD

1) Matching Skills

The ability to match is the foundation of all learning, not just reading. Practice matching simple shapes (of one colour) – circle, square, etc…Graduate to simple objects and then simple pictures. You can create your own, or there are lots of  commercially produced matching games. There are also many free matching games online.

2) Sorting

When matching has been mastered, work on sorting simple objects – popsicle sticks, spoons, toys, socks, clothing, etc…or commercially produced sorting kits.

3) Scrapbooks

Scrapbooks are an excellent way to help children with ASD to organize items in the environment – categorization skills. Scrapbooks can be created with pictures from catalogues, advertisements, photos, labels (e.g. movie covers). Topics might include foods, animals, the house (room by room), toys, clothing, the farm, transportation/vehicles or cartoon characters, focusing on the interests of the child. Again, work towards pointing and sharing attention to the pictures. An alphabet scrapbook is also a good resource – one letter per page and pictures of items that begin with the letter

4) Reading to Your Child

We are all told to read to our children, but if you really want to make a connection, then make sure that you choose stories that your child will understand and that are within her/his experience. Many children like to hear the same story over and over again – it’s O.K.! Hearing the same story can be a very reassuring experience. You can always pair it with a new story and gradually build up the number of stories your child enjoys. As your read, see if you can engage your child in pointing to favorite characters (e.g. Clifford, Thomas) and familiar objects, establishing joint attention. Model the action and assist the child to point gradually fading the assistance

5) The Alphabet

For many children with ASD, learning the letters and their sounds is not a prerequisite skill for reading. Children with autism often learn more efficiently through whole word sight recognition. A combined approach is most effective over the long term. Start with showing your child the names of family members printed on flashcards (2” x 5”). Make sure that the words you teach are relevant and meaningful. Children will want to engage with materials and words that have meaning for them.

6) Personal Books

Creating books for your child can be fun and a very effective way to help her/him to engage in the shared reading process

Using photographs, you can write and illustrate small books about things that are familiar and relevant to your child: the family, your house, favourite foods, pets, going for a visit, holidays, going to the park, etc

When we use familiar materials, we are more likely to achieve attention and comprehension

The use of photographs will also help the child to build memories of persons and events

7) Fine Motor Skills

Every child goes through a scribbling stage – let your child scribble! Pictures for colouring should be large and simple. If you have a good colouring book, you can have pictures enlarged at a copy shop – make multiple copies of the same picture. Keyboards on computers and phones can also be useful tools. Here are some more tips for developing fine motor skills.

  • Let your child watch you scribble and colour – this is called passive modeling
  • When your child is ready, work for imitation: | , _ , O and X are the prerequisite strokes for printing
  • Remember: little hands = little materials (crayons, scissors, paper for cutting)
  • Let your child become familiar with the keyboard as this may be his/her most efficient writing tool in the long term

More resources on developing literacy and reading skills for children with autism…

How Do I Teach This Kid to Read? Teaching Literacy Skills to Young Children with Autism

Literacy Skill Development for Students With Special Learning Needs: A Strengths-Based Approach


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