Best Practices for Teaching Reading to Students with Autism

May 4, 2011, Angie Barnett

Best Practices for Teaching Reading to Students with Autism

We are learning that there are certain reading strategies that have been proven to work best for students with autism. For example, students with autism need:

  • Instant Feedback
  • Attention Holding Activities
  • Physical Engagement
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Visual Cues

Additionally, there is growing research about the type of reading instruction that works best for those with autism and other spectrum offshoots. If a student with autism is going to learn to read, three essential components must be in place. They include:

1) Presenting the materials visually

2) Offering simple, concise and minimal directions or instructions for completing a task or applying a skill

3) Taking advantage of phonics-based instruction that systematically and repetitively breaks thousands of words down into their component sounds or phonemes Today there are online reading systems that meet those requirements plus offer affordable easy-to-administer solutions that can help a child with autism learn to read. Be certain to select a program that is Orton-Gillingham based, meaning that it utilizes a multisensory method that is beneficial to all learning styles including visual and kinesthetic learners.

We’ve seen it time and again. Phonics is best learned when the teaching method is explicit and sequential, represented in a clear, direct manner that starts from simple concepts. To ensure success, the program must build upon the previous skills to ensure constant reinforcement and retention.

Many reading programs on the market today consist of long rules or they are not linear – they jump around from one phonics concept to the next. This approach does not work well with most emerging readers, let alone those with special needs like autism. Another benefit of a solid phonics curriculum is that it can help an autistic student with recall by providing an interactive, engaging process like marking and proving words. Ultimately, the right phonics instruction will help autistic learners develop phonemic awareness and teach them in a way that is cognitive to this type of learner.

To learn more, see Phonic Reading and Spelling with Lewis on YouTube and a listing of the Top 50 Autism Blogs.


Learn how Reading Horizons elementary reading program and reading intervention program incorporate multisensory instruction that is beneficial for students with autism.


Share what has been effective for your students below!

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