Helping Autistic Children to Read: Effective Strategies

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Most children with autism can be taught to read. They just need special strategies to help them. To teach a child with autism to read, we need to understand them and find techniques that make reading interesting and useful to them. Here are a number of researched strategies that you can use.

Make Reading Fun and Interesting:

Children with autism often have difficulties with attention. Any learning activity should be fun, interesting and must relate to them.

Music and Singing: Make reading fun by using music and singing to teach songs, and words. You can write out the words of a song and get the child to follow them as you sing. You can also use music to teach phonics and word sounds.

Visual Materials: Children with autism respond better to visual materials. Make sure that story books or other reading materials have plenty of pictures. Use word cards with pictures. Use maps and other visual aids to help children understand concepts.

Art: Many children with autism use art to express themselves. Use art to develop literacy and reading skills. Get the child to copy out words and draw pictures to illustrate them. Write a couple of sentences describing a picture the child drew. In this way, the child will start understanding the purpose and value of words and reading.

Start with Factual Reading:

Children with autism usually do not have the same fascination for fantasy and fiction as other children. They find it difficult to understand abstract concepts. Thus they find reading often useless, and even frustrating. Use practical, day to day objects and activities to teach reading. Some examples are to use a recipe book, or directions to assemble a product, or an instruction manual to a toy. You can also use the labels to jars and commonly used materials to teach words. If you are using stories, use simple reality based stories with plenty of pictures.

Multi Sensory Techniques:

Use a variety of multi sensory techniques to teach reading. Some examples are to demonstrate verbs with an action. Use a variety of games, and other fun activities to teach different words. Use field visits to help improve a child’s knowledge and understanding of the world.

Adapt your Medium:

A slight change in medium can make a world of difference to the interest of the child and the speed of learning. Here are two modifications that have been researched and proven to be effective.

Computers: Children with autism attend better and longer to instruction given through computers and computer software than through books. Experiment with different software to discover what the child enjoys.

Colored overlays: Children with autism may have abnormality in color perception. It has been found that colored overlays on text help children read more easily. All you need is a transparent plastic colored sheet. Place it over the text that the child needs to read. Different types of lighting may also make a difference.

Every child is different and has different abilities and interests. When helping autistic children to read find out what works best for them. Success lies in being patient, creative and not giving up. Most of all remember that children with autism CAN learn to read.


S. Vacca James, (2007), Autistic Children Can be Taught to Read, International Journal of Special Education, Vol 22 No3, 54- 61

Amanda K. Ludlow,1,3 Arnold J. Wilkins,2 and Pam Heaton Ludlow Amanda, Wilkins Arnold, Heaton Pam, (2006), The Effect of Coloured Overlays on Reading Ability in Children with Autism, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Mikael Heimann, Keith E. Nelson, Tomas Tjus and Christopher Gillberg, (1995), Increasing reading and communication skills in children with autism through an interactive multimedia computer program, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Volume 25, Number 5, 459-480