Published on: March 6, 2015
What does it mean to read? In a teacher’s world of education and autism I will often hear people say, “so and so is able to read,” “reading is a strength for them!”, “they are such a good reader!” or even, “I always have them read out loud in class!”
It makes me pause for a minute and think: what do they mean when they say their student is reading?
Does the child understand the words they are seeing or are they just saying each word out loud? Reading is not just being able to memorize and recognize words and read them out loud. Reading is so much more.
On the technical side, reading is being able to:
• recognize spelling rules and apply them to unknown words
• identify phonics patterns in order to decode
• understand tone, speed, and intonation.
On the functional side, reading is:
• understanding the meaning of the words you are seeing
• making sense of those words given all of your background knowledge
• being able to apply knowledge to create a movie or picture in your mind.
It is at this point, when you begin to make personal connections to what you are reading. Once you are able to make those connections you can be part of discussions and have opinions on what you dislike and what you like.
Our amazing kids on the autism spectrum struggle with understanding language in all aspects; the words we say out loud (or read out loud), processing those words (comprehension), connecting those words to background knowledge (making predictions), and then oral or written expression of their understanding of those words (school work). Words are hard.
But how do we know if our child or student is struggling with comprehension? The reading comprehension problems of individuals with autism are often masked by their strengths in decoding, rote memory, and understanding of concrete information. This is especially true during the early school years when there is a focus on teaching children how to read. It can be even harder to recognize when a student has very specific interests and an above average understanding about a particular topic. People can assume they understand everything! Add in some attention issues and well meaning providers can presume that a child understands the content, but that they just were not listening. These children may even perform well on early tests of reading readiness and decoding.
If your child has issues with the following then there may be a comprehension challenge:
• Gets the details rather than the big picture
• Has difficulty understanding humor
• Has trouble navigating social situations
• Has trouble with critical or abstract thinking
• Struggles with answering questions such as,” Why?” or “What is the main idea?” or “Can you predict…”
If you can answer yes to any of those indicators, then your child may be struggling with comprehension.
At The Shafer Center, we believe it is critically important for children and young adults to have solid comprehension skills.
In school, comprehension starts to play a more important role when reading and class is less about learning the mechanics of reading and more about reading to learn. Being able to follow in social studies and science through reading and class discussions becomes more challenging because the content is often more abstract. Academic progress, especially with the Common Core Curriculum, depends on understanding, analyzing, and applying the information gathered through reading.
Comprehension and social skills are also closely tied. In order to make an inference about a character in a story, you need to use all of your social cognition skills to come to an answer, while the same is true for understanding how another person is feeling. Comprehension in regards to social skills is important because the impacts include:
o awareness and expression of feelings
o recognition of non-verbal communication
o introducing oneself to others
o conversation skills
o making small talk
o negotiating with others
o dining etiquette and dating etiquette
o having and holding a job
Having good comprehension skills opens doors; both academically and socially.
In 2013, The Shafer Center started Connect XYZ a reading and critical thinking program designed to close the gap between reading performance and potential. The most effective way to close that gap is to teach skills directly, systematically, and in a highly targeted way.
In order to teach in a direct and targeted manor, it is critical to understand and identify where the gaps are. The most effective way to accomplish this is by conducting an extensive assessment. Once the gap has been identified then the intervention begins and intervention must include research based curriculums that can target the areas of need. Our interventions are done in a 1:1 tutoring or small group environment.
The Shafer Center uses a combination of research based curriculums in order to best meet the needs of the kids. In keeping with our philosophy, data is taken during every tutoring and small group session. The data will indicate when a child has master a goal and is ready to move on to the next one, as well as if a new intervention or strategy would be more effective. The belief of The Shafer Center is that everything is data driven and Connect XYZ is no exception.
We’ve had a number of kids in our tutoring program and in our summer Camp program. The more intervention there is the greater the success and there has been a lot of success! Being a part of helping kids gain more skills in comprehension is a joy. But watching them use these skills to make friends, engage with their families and gain deeper meaning to the world around them is a true gift.
Click to learn more about The Shafer Center’s Connect XYZ program: https://theshafercenter.com/our-programs/connect-xyz/
By Stephanie Durfee, Director of Education
To learn more about joining The Shafer Center for Early Intervention family, call us at 410-517-1113 or email us at: [email protected]