In February 2008, I published a short article in Teaching Exceptional Children, entitled, “Faciliating Reading Comprehension for Students on the Autism Spectrum. Here I will summarize some of the information from that article:
1. Use visual maps to prime background knowledge. This will help students to focus their thinking in the author’s direction. Leaving this to change may not be a good idea. Sometimes I do this by making a simple semantic map. Start by discussing the setting (where and when) and the characters. As the story progresses, add more information on the action, plot, etc.
Taking picture walks through a book to awaken the student’s schema is a good way of priming background knowledge.
2. Modeling think alouds is esssential for students to realize that reading is an active process. Used in reciprocal teaching think-alouds help students learn strategies of predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. Think-alouds are recommended for children having difficulty with the meta-cognitive aspects of reading. Using think alouds that make connections between the text, other texts or films and the world are helpful ways to make reading active.
3. Emotional thermometers
Helping students understand feelings and emotions of characters is important in enhancing student’s appreciation of why characters make certain choices. Using emotional thermometers (Westby, 2004) with color and varied vocabulary helps children gain a sense of various intensities of feelings (see above). Carol Gray or social story fame suggests that color connotes emotions and can be used to help children with ASD understand and describe feelings and emotions for themselves as well as characters in stories.
4. Social stories can also help students understand language which may seem contradictory to a character’s actions. For example, here is a social story that explains Caleb’s actions after receiving Sarah’s first letter: ” In Sarah Plain and Tall, when Sarah writes a letter to the family, Caleb reads the letter “so many times that the ink begins to run and the folds tear.” Caleb is not trying to ruin the letter. He is very interested in the letter, so he reads it over and over. Sometimes I get very excited about something and I talk about it over and over. This is what Caleb is doing in the story. This tells me that Caleb is very interested in Sarah and he is hoping she will come to live with the family and be his mother.”