Keeping autistic readers interested

Curry school professor develops method to better teach autistic students, provides greater autonomy

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Curry School Special Education Asst. Prof. Michael Solis works with high functioning autistic students using interest-based reading and positive behavior support to help them focus on learning 

According to the Center for Disease Control, Autism Spectrum Disorder affects nearly one in every 68 children. Children affected by ASD tend to exhibit fixated, untiring interest in particular subjects. Through preliminary research, Michael Solis, a Curry School special education assistant professor, developed a method of engaging high functioning autistic students through their own specific interests to improve their reading comprehension.

“Interest-based reading” — or providing autistic students with reading material based on their particular interests — allows children from fourth to eighth grades with ASD improve their reading comprehension.

“A lot of kids with autism have difficulty distinguishing details and main ideas in texts,” Solis said. “Many also have difficulties determining perspectives of characters in texts and understanding emotions of characters within texts.”

By choosing texts about those specific interests, Solis’ team works with autistic children to spark their curiosities. By using interest-based readings, autistic children can gain skills in reading comprehension that they can apply in other aspects of their lives.

“We identify their interests and use the readings as a reinforcement and work towards showing kids that they can have success at the task of reading with this interest-based reading and show that that same success can be transferred to other types of texts as well,” Solis said.

In addition to interest-based reading, Solis’ research includes positive behavior support — a method used to increase focused attention, effort, and concentration. The token economy behavioral system — in which children are given small rewards for behaviors the teacher wants to increase — is implemented by instructors to ensure the student is progressing and consistently engaged. By offering positive support, Solis has found that students participate more actively.

“Many times one of the most difficult challenges that teachers face in regards to teaching children with autism is simply to get them to read,” Solis said.

While the participants’ performance improved significantly through interest-based reading, progress was only reinforced and encouraged through positive behavior support.

From here, Solis hopes his research can help high functioning autistic students everywhere with reading comprehension — an essential skill.

“The area of reading comprehension has consistently been an area of concern,so my hope is that we can come up with some things that are innovative in improving those skills so that more kids with autism have more opportunities at the post-secondary level around attending college and pursuing careers,” Solis said.

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