ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Friday, July 14, 2006: 1:45 PM-3:00 PM
#1835- Issues and Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension in Individuals with ASD
Individuals with High Functioning Autism, Asperger Syndrome and/or hyperlexia may learn to read by sight or phonetically but often have difficulty comprehending and answering questions about what they read. Problems in understanding syntax and semantics, integrating information, referencing and accessing prior knowledge are common. Strategies for improving reading comprehension developed by the presenters, suggested from research and adapted from recommendations of the National Reading Panel will be discussed and illustrated.

Presenters:Phyllis Kupperman, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Center for Speech and Language Disorders, Speech and Language Pathologist - Phyllis Kupperman provided clinical services specializing in ASD at CSLD for 30 years. Her book, The Source for Intervention in ASD, was recently published by LinguiSystems. She has given presentations in 10 states and Canada. She serves on the professional advisory council of the Autism Society of Illinois.

Alyssa Capeling, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Center for Speech and Language Disorders, Speech and Language Pathologist - Alyssa Capeling, M.A., CCC-SLP/L is a speech and language pathologist with CSLD. Her experience includes screening, evaluating and treating children and young adults with a variety of speech and language disorders, as well as serving as the Social Language Group Coordinator. Alyssa has a special interest in and experience working with children with ASD. Alyssa has developed presentations about the remediation of social language skills with children and planning summer curricula for social language development. She presented “Social Skills Strategies from a Survey of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders” at the Illinois Speech-Language Hearing Association Annual Conference in February 2006.

Mary Moreno, M.S, CCC-SLP/L, Center for Speech and Language Disorders, Speech and Language Pathologist - Mary Moreno received her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology at Texas Woman’s University. She evaluates and treats children with ASD, coordinates clinical programs and conducts social language groups for children and teens at CSLD. She has given presentations at ASA and ISHA.

Christina Rees, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Center for Speech and Language Disorders, Speech and Language Pathologist - Christina Rees has been employed at CSLD since 1996 where she evaluates and treats children and young adults with a variety of speech and language disorders, and serves as the Clinical Manager. Christina has a special interest in working with children with ASD, non-verbal learning disability, specific language impairment, developmental delay, apraxia/oral motor disorders and social/pragmatic disorders. Her presentations include the development of social language skills in children with ASD and the use of the Fast ForWord program with this population. She has spoken at parent and professional workshops, ASHA, Illinois Speech-Language Hearing Association and ASA.

Karen Supel, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Center for Speech and Language Disorders, Speech and Language Pathologist - Karen Supel received her M.A. in Speech/Language Pathology from Northwestern University in 1993. Since then, her experience has included assessing and treating children and adults with a variety of communication disorders in the home, at school and in clinical settings. She has worked as a speech-language pathologist in an early childhood classroom and team teacher in a kindergarten program designed especially for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. In addition to her clinical work at CSLD, Karen has given numerous presentations at regional and national conferences including Illinois Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Speech-Language Hearing Association and Autism Society of America.

The learning objectives this presentation are that participants will be able to: 1) describe the learning style of individuals with ASD as it relates to reading comprehension; 2) identify common problems relating to reading comprehension; 3) apply strategies based on research, National Reading Panel recommendations and clinical experience to their work with individuals with ASD.

Researchers have long understood that individuals with ASD exhibit differences in language learning affecting both comprehension and expression. Recent neurological research has substantiated differences in brain organization both in children with autism as well as children with developmental language delay. While many individuals with high functioning autism, Asperger Syndrome and hyperlexia read fluently, comprehension is compromised both by language learning issues as well difficulties in social understanding.

In 1983, Snowling and Frith identified the following characteristic problems: 1) good word recognition/poor comprehension; 2) understanding of syntax and semantics limited or delayed; 3) difficulty in integrating information; 4) difficulty in referencing (attention/pronouns) 5) poor access of prior knowledge.

In our clinical experience, we have also identified difficulties in the following areas that affect reading comprehension: 1) phonetic decoding issues; 2) joint attention; 3) detail vs. main idea; 4) reading fluency; 5) prosody; 6) verbal to visualization; 7) fact vs. fiction; 8) schema formation; 9) interest and motivation. In addition, problems with social understanding and the development of a theory of mind affect the processes necessary to understand, relate to and make predictions about characters in fiction.

There are few studies that deal with the efficacy of strategies for developing reading comprehension specific to individuals with autism spectrum disorders. However, O'Connor and Klein in a study published in 2004 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders compared three forms of procedural facilitation for improving reading comprehension. Their findings relating to semantics and syntax will be discussed and practical applications will be suggested.

In a report published in 2004, the National Reading Panel (NRP) reviewed the research on strategies to improve reading comprehension in the general population. Some of the strategies with proven efficacy can be directly applicable for use with individuals with autism spectrum disorders. For example, it was found that vocabulary instruction (oral and print) was critical for improved comprehension. Vocabulary acquisition is often a strength in individuals with ASD.

Other areas critical for improving comprehension are more challenging for individuals with ASD. The NRP data suggest that text comprehension is enhanced when readers actively relate the ideas represented in print to their own knowledge and experiences and construct mental representations in memory. The panel identified comprehension instruction with proven efficacy for non-impaired readers: 1) comprehension monitoring; 2) cooperative learning; 3) graphic and semantic organizers (story maps); 4) question answering with immediate feedback; 5) question generation; 6) story structure; 7) summarization with integration and generalization. In order to accomplish this, a range of underlying skills need to be identified and directly taught to individuals with ASD.

Taking into consideration the learning style and difficulties characteristic in ASD, we have developed and field-tested practical strategies for developing some of the skills identified by the NRP as efficacious for improving reading comprehension. These include strategies relating to rote learning, understanding syntax and semantics, answering and asking questions, using highly motivating materials, developing joint attention, identifying the main idea and the details, developing schema, improving generalization and integration, dealing with factual material, improving social understanding of fictional characters and plots, and creating visual representations from text. Ideas for communication of learned material and skills that are needed for cooperative learning activities will also be discussed. Materials and examples of each of these strategies will be presented. These strategies can be used by parents, classroom teachers, special educators and speech and language pathologists and can be adapted for use with children at various reading levels.

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