April 13, 2012

What is the Best Way to Teach Students with Autism How to Read?

Tags: Teaching Help Videos, Teaching Reading Tips

There is a lot of information about helping students with processing disorders (such as dyslexia) with reading, but what about other conditions that can make reading difficult? How can teachers help students that struggle with reading because of autism?

Here is Reading Horizons Teacher Trainer, Shantell Berrett, answering this question (her answer is mostly targeted towards Reading Horizons elementary reading curriculum and reading intervention program, however, the concepts she discusses reveal best practices in general):

Students with autism or students that have a low IQ respond well to a reading curriculum that is simple, systematic, and hands-on.


Students with autism have a difficult time filtering and prioritizing information because their brain sees every input as being equally important. This is the result of the way their working memory works. Because students with autism have a difficult time prioritizing information, a simple approach is very helpful. This helps remove the need for these students to have prioritized information while learning how to read.


As discussed, students with autism have a difficult time filtering and prioritizing information. Because of this, students with autism prefer and work best in an environment that has a lot of structure and organization. Not only do they work well under a structured environment, but they also work well with a structured curriculum. A systematic course that only introduces one skill at a time and that progresses in a step by step fashion helps these students while they are learning to read.


Like many students, a visual, hands-on, multisensory approach helps keep students with autism engaged in what they are learning. While learning, students with autism receive a lot of stimulus in their brain that causes them to move a lot. Multisensory instruction helps students with autism channel their urge to move into what they are learning. 

Learn more about multisensory instruction in this free webinar: "The Essential Need for Orton Gillingham Based Reading Instruction" ›

Other Approaches

Shantell mentions that there are some that argue that the best approach for teaching reading to students with autism is to have them memorize lists of words since they have a knack for memorization. BUT, Shantell points out that was the method that was believed to be the most beneficial for students with dyslexia for a long time, and as it was researched, found to be a poor approach for those students. A brain only has the capacity to remember so much. A simple, systematic, hands-on approach is great because it empowers students with autism with skills that don’t make them reliant on memorization.

1 Comment

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Tefl online said

Yes, there are lots of students that struggle with reading because of autism. As per my perception I also strongly believe that students that have a low intellect, react well to coaching that is simple, systematic, and hands-on.

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