The purpose of this study is to determine if there is an effective strategy for teaching reading comprehension for learners with autism that can be implemented in a public school classroom. As an autistic support teacher for six years, I have seen students with autism struggle with reading comprehension. Hours are spent on implementing direct instruction in order that students will be able to decode text on grade level. Often some students will be able to decode text at their instructional grade level, but are unable to answer a question about what happened in a passage they just read. It is evident that the students face a struggle understanding what they read. Ricketts (2011) noted that the point of reading is to comprehend what is in the text not simply to decode the words on a page.
There are different types of questions that can be asked of students when assessing reading comprehension. Explicit questions can be asked as well as questions that require students to make inferences. In one study (as cited by Williamson, P., Carnahan, C., & Jacobs, J., 2012) Myles and her colleagues found that students with autism were able to answer questions that were found in the text rather than inferential questions. This suggests that students answer questions more fluently when they are able to return to the text for their information.
When I ask comprehension questions of my students, they will often respond by repeating the last word or two of the sentence that they just read. Williamson, Carnahan, and Jacobs (2012) state that “many individuals with autism spectrum disorder may hyperfocus on minute, and frequently insignificant, details rather than on the big picture, challenging their ability to comprehend and store pertinent information” (p. 452). In my experience, it can take multiple days reading the same story for students to be able to answer comprehension questions correctly about a text at their reading level. Even after several days in one story, students are often unable to answer questions that begin with why or how.
One study of reading comprehension in children with autism explored the ability of student’s to select meanings of homonyms when the homonyms were presented in isolation (Henderson, Clark, & Snowling, 2011). The results of the study showed that “children with ASD have intact early semantic processing but impairments at a later stage in processing” (Henderson, Clark, & Snowling, 2011). When selecting an intervention, it will help to keep these processing impairments in consideration. An intervention will address these impairments to help students be successful since understanding the meaning of words is imperative to reading comprehension.
A significant study that used a compare-contrast text structure to help students with autism comprehend science text is helpful in showing an effective design to implement an intervention. This study used a single-subject reversal design to document the...