How to Teach an Autistic Child to Read

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Autism presents unique challenges when it comes to learning to read. Children with autism typically have problems focusing, learning to decode words and problems with motivation. An International Journal of Special Education article states high-functioning autistic children have the skills in place to learn to read, though those skills are delayed. Choosing the right teaching method can clear the way for your child to learn to read.

Step 1

Use pictures. Children with autism are believed to be visual by nature. They see the world in pictures, not words. Using photographs to describe the various nouns the child encounters in a book helps him to understand what the nouns mean when he encounters them during reading.

Step 2

Combine memorization skills with learning phonics. Though autistic children are capable of memorizing words through pictures, they also need to be able to sound out new words. Using photos to explain the various sounds helps him move from picture memorizing to attaching the picture to a sound. This is the first step in learning to read phonetically.

Step 3

Demonstrate words. Words such as “up” and “down” are not easy to illustrate with photographs, but can be demonstrated. Pointing to the word “up” and making a toy airplane move up into the air each time helps the child understand what “up” means. Using different toys for this demonstration helps the child understand the word “up” is not associated with the particular toy, but the motion the toy makes.

Step 4

Teach with nonfiction books. Autistic children have difficulty with imagination and creativity. They think in very literal terms. Using nonfiction books eliminates the need for them to learn to use imagination while learning to read.

Step 5

Ask the child questions. As you work through the nonfiction book, stop to ask questions such as “What just happened?” This helps the child stay focused on the words in the book, and engages him in the learning process.

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