Autism Spectrum and Reading Comprehension


One of the challenges children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder face has to do with reading comprehension, especially with regard to fiction. Children with ASD struggle to pick up on social cues, and have difficulties noting body language, tone, and understanding slang and idioms. While a child with ASD may have strengths in sight word vocabulary, and even reading decoding, he or she may miss key information from the text. For children with ASD emotional insight and perspective taking are especially difficult; these are skills readers must rely on, particularly as they read more complex forms of literature. As an art form, the best literature has a component of the reader’s interpretation.
Parents often ask what they can do to help their child’s reading comprehension. Below are some tips and strategies.

  1. Help your child by pointing out different genres of reading material. Is this an article? A chapter book? A poem? A personal letter? Explain the purpose of different kinds of writing, and how readers can approach different text for different purposes. A letter is for two people to share information with each other. What kind of information? Are they sharing personal news or business news? The words in a poem usually aren’t meant to be taken literally—a poet uses certain words because they make us feel a certain way or see something in a new way. An article is often to teach us about something happening right now that we can learn about, and we can look for the facts in it. Many chapter books are fiction, they tell a story that isn’t real, but the thoughts and feelings of the characters help us learn about our own thoughts and feelings. Make your own experiences as a reader overt, explain to your child what you are reading, why, and what you got out of it.
  2. Read aloud to your child, and have your child read to you. When you read, model reading with an interpretive voice, which demonstrates changes in intonation and volume. Listen to your child to figure out if he or she has developed this skill yet. If not, this may be a skill that you and your child’s teachers may need to directly teach: your child may need support with symbols such as punctuation, and your child may benefit from practicing using an interpretive voice with easier text.
  3. With younger children pause as you read aloud, and drop in a comment every once in a while. This might sound like “Ooh, she sounded mad.” Or “I wonder what he’s doing to do next.”
  4. For younger readers, pick books that have illustrations that exaggerate a characters facial expressions and body language. As you are reading, point out how a character’s body and face match an emotional moment in the text. For example, you read about Fletcher being embarrassed, point to the picture in that moment, and pause to say “Oh, yeah look. He’s looking down and his body is slumped.”
  5. To help your child with perspective taking , look for books that have a social problem, characters that disagree on something, or some kind of reaction that is a mismatch to the situation. As you read, discuss what the characters are thinking and feeling, and why they reacted the way they did.
  6. Find out if your child’s classroom uses a set of questions or a certain approach to reading comprehension, and use the same system at home when you are reading together.
  7. For older readers, get a syllabus with their reading materials. If you aren’t familiar with the literature, consider reading it along with your child, or listening to the book in your car during your commute times. Find times to discuss the literature with your child.
  8. While reading may not be your personal favorite activity as a parent, consider doing more of it while your kids are watching. Got a spare ten minutes? Read an article on your phone and tell your child about what you are reading, rather than playing candy crush. Consider reading the news and discussing it as a family, rather than watching it on TV. If you’re going to see a movie based on a book, check the book out from the library and familiarize yourselves with it before you see the movie. Modeling an enthusiasm for reading can be contagious, and can benefit your family.

If you ever have questions or concerns about your child’s development as reader, speak to your child’s teacher, school psychologist, or consider an evaluation to determine how your child’s reading abilities are developing.