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Friday 19 Jan 2018

Teaching Sight Words to Students with Autism

Question submitted by Patronus Charm via Autism Speaks:
Some good news!

I noticed that a lot of information on your site involves phonics-based approaches to reading, and I was wondering what your thoughts are on teaching non-verbal children to read. It seems that sometimes when non-verbal children have difficulty reproducing and processing sound-symbol relationships, that reading instruction stalls or drops off for this population in the classroom.

There doesn’t seem to be a sight reading program developed specifically for those children who struggle with this component, especially children with autism who may have significant auditory processing and language comprehension deficits as well. I know Edmark is sometimes used – do you know of or have experience with any other programs of this nature?

I noticed a new paper to be published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders on sight reading, but the abstract didn’t mention any specific programs:

Sight Word Instruction for Students with Autism: An Evaluation of the Evidence Base.

Spector JE
College of Education and Human Development, University of Maine, 5766 Shibles Hall, Orono, ME, 04421, USA,

This paper reviews the evidence on sight word instruction as a method of teaching students with autism and significant cognitive and verbal limitations to read printed words. Nine single-subject studies were rated using Reichow et al.’s (J Autism Dev Disord 38:1311-1319, 2008) evaluative method for identifying evidence-based practice, and studies with at least adequate methodology were analyzed to identify common intervention features. Results yielded evidence in support of a massed trials approach featuring student response to a succession of items, differential positive reinforcement, systematic prompting, and use of visual supports. Across studies, students learned to identify printed words, even those with limited oral language and no prior reading instruction. However, no studies addressed the effects of sight word instruction on broad literacy outcomes.

In the study Patronus is referring to, there were 9 sight word reading intervention studies reviewed by the authors. All of the studies reviewed were not utilizing a reading curriculum, rather they were using direct instruction methods and systematic prompting procedures to teach sight words to students with autism. The studies were meant to address the efficacy of instructional strategies to teach students to read words, the did not address literacy as a whole because none of the interventions addressed the other components of literacy. Sight word reading instruction should be one component of a whole literacy curriculum. Learning how to read common words fluently is vital to reading fluency and ultimately to reading comprehension because the student will spend less time focused on reading individual words and more time focused on comprehending what was read.

There are a variety of reading instruction materials which focus on a variety of literacy skills. Click here to find out more.

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