6 Helpful Tips for Teaching Reading to a Child with Autism

O⅂⅂ƎH and NƎZ!  Imagine if you had to read words like this. It was probably fairly easy to figure them out, but think about how uncomfortable it would be if you had to learn how to read differently because of how you gather and process information. Now you’re probably wondering are there people actually reading like this. There is a possibility. However, I don’t want you to directly focus on how those words are written, but focus on the fact that there are a group of people that see learning differently than most of us do. That group is part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This blog post will not focus on ASD in detail, but if you’re not familiar with this diagnosis, here is a link that will give you facts about Autism, https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics.

Four years ago, I became involved heavily with researching Autism, because my son, Zen was diagnosed twice at the age of 2 years old and 8 months. But before this diagnosis, he was diagnosed with a severe language delay at 2 years old and 2 months. This diagnosis was absolutely a life-changing moment for me, because his results were alarming. It revealed that Zen’s language development was at a 3-6-month-old baby. As a mother, I was sad, hurt, and somewhat depressed, because I thought he wouldn’t talk or be able to learn. But, I understood that my assignment from God was to mother, love, and nurture this child regardless of his diagnoses, and I began to find ways to teach him to read. I actually found out that he’s smarter than me.

I can remember about 5 years ago I had to do a writing assignment on a group of children I would prefer not to teach. I chose children with special needs, because as a Spanish Instructor, I felt that my class would not benefit them. Also, I did not have any experience with teaching children with special needs, so there was some fear within me as well. I’m not an expert in this field, however, after teaching my child for the past 4 years, I definitely can offer some great tips to help you begin your reading journey with your genius.

1. Fry’s Word List – This word list offers words by grade level that are most frequently used in the English vocabulary. You can make flashcards, play games, and equip your child with these words. I began having Zen read words from this list and now he’s reading from the 2nd-grade list. Another word list is also the Dolce list. Please click or type the link below for the Fry’s Word List. 

2. Use Visual Representation – When you introduce a word, make sure to add a picture of it. For example, if you’re teaching the word apple, find pictures on the computer of one, draw a picture of one, or you can buy one. This will make a great treat after their session.

3. Set Small Goals – Don’t rush the process; it’ll take time. You want to teach a word a week, and if you don’t see the results, please continue into the next week with the same goal. Also, after the goal is reached, build upon the last small goal. Using the apple again, begin introducing the colors red or/and green which are the main colors of apples. You’ll begin to know which apple is their favorite. 

4. Praise – We all love some praise when we do something well. Our little geniuses love it too. I remember when Zen started to say some words, and we jumped, clapped, sang,or whatever we thought to do to show how excited we were. The interesting thing was that he would just say the word over and over, so he could see us act crazy.

5. Consistency – Being consistent is very important for their learning process. When parents are consistent, you’ll begin to see routines developing. With children with ASD, having routines can be good and bad. But, let’s focus on the good. It increases their curiosity of wanting to learn everyday. Before bed, you may have to read the same book for months. I know I did. You can informally assess your genius by reading a sentence from the book and leaving out a word just to check and see if they would say it. This is fantastic if they do, but remember, this will take time. Fun fact! Zen also has a night routine which he prays by himself before he goes to sleep.

6. Nurture and Love – For me, this is the most important tip. Please, please do everything in love. During your session time, give them a kiss or a hug while learning. Sing their favorite song or just dance with them. Nurture and love are two factors that would make anyone want to learn more.

These are 6 helpful tips that I use to help my child learn to read. Currently, Zen reads on a 2nd-grade level and his speech isn’t that far behind. Parents, caregivers, teachers, family, and friends, I am a believer that we hold the cure to ASD with our gifts and tools. So please use yours to help these geniuses fulfill their purpose in life.

Dr. Z. Helpful Hints: When your genius learns a word, make sure they are able to say it without assistance 3 times. I find that Zen retains words and people’s names when I use this method.

Dr. Zwila Martinez and Zen, 2018 Face of United Way of Southeastern Louisiana

If you have other ideas, please share them with us at socialbridgesinc@gmail.com or leave a comment below. For educational consulting, literacy coaching, literacy intervention, professional development, second language acquisition, small business startup, non-profit startup, dissertation coaching, and family educational guidance, please contact me, Dr. Z. at thelingofactoryllc@gmail.com or visit my website at www.thelingofactory.com.

Social Bridges Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit that is partnering with families, educators, and schools to provide educational guidance in literacy, reading, and writing for those that are in need of assistance. Mainly, we want to help parents navigate remote learning through these uncertain times. We have begun offering literacy intervention to children with reading difficulties. If this is a service your child needs, please contact us at socialbridgesinc@gmail.com. Please help us reach as many children and families by donating to our organization. You can do this by clicking on the link below or visiting our website at www.socialbridgesinc.org.

Editing by Adaryll Moore @ adaryllmoore@amooreenterprises.org

Dr. Zwila Martinez

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How Classic Nursery Rhymes Can Develop Your Child’s Critical Thinking Skills at any Grade Level including Higher Education

Let’s begin by saying that I am aware that when we think of nursery rhymes, we think of little cute children in Head Start, Preschool, or Kindergarten with pigtails and runny noses. Nursery rhymes are these little poems written to engage our toddlers in learning to help them in mastering the first steps of reading. Just to give a quick tip, there are 5 components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Nursery rhymes primarily focus on phonemic awareness and phonics, which basically teaches us the relationships between letters and sounds. Once our teachers believe that we’ve shown mastery in these two components, we really don’t use nursery rhymes again until we have our own children. This blog post will provide ways to implement them back as a resource to developing your child’s critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills are very important skills to have at some level to survive daily as adults, either in our jobs or homes. Developing critical thinking skills early in our children will have an impact on their problem-solving skills, reading and comprehension skills, and their whole educational journey including higher education. This process of developing critical thinking skills is referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Refer to images for further insight.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Depth-of-Knowledge-Wheel.png

Now, let’s use one classic nursery rhyme. “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.”  Here’s a question you can begin asking, “Why do you think Jill tumbled after him?” I asked family and friends from ages 8 to 72, and the responses were unbelievable and funny. Some responses were that Jill tripped over a rock, Jill was trying to help Jack, Jill was following Jack to Jack’s fall representing the fall of his kingdom, and Jill fell because she was Jack’s queen. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer, but make sure that your children are able to point out evidence to support their answers. What I loved most about this exercise was that the participants began asking questions and having an open dialogue.

Asking Questions

  • My nephew, who’s a 7th grader asked, “Why did Jack and Jill have to fetch water on a hill?” Of course, there may be various answers, but I suggested that there was a well on the hill. He actually didn’t know about a well that was used to attain water. When I asked him if he knew what a well was, he replied that he knew a whale and a wishing well. This is a good example of how we should fill in the gaps in our children’s education.

Open Dialogue

  • This exercise is a way to get our children away from the electronics and social media and getting them to communicate with us more. Here you can use open-ended questions, which encourages conversation, and these questions can’t be answered by yes or no. And don’t forget, we are activating prior knowledge (schemata), which is the nursery rhyme that they have learned, and developing new knowledge with it.

It’s a good time to get those nursery rhymes off the bookshelf and dust them off to use them to build and develop critical thinking skills. Another classic nursery rhyme is Humpty Dumpty. Begin the conversation by asking, “What made Humpty Dumpty fall?” or “What’s the significance behind the name Humpty Dumpty?’ These are just 2 classic nursery rhymes that can be used for learning beyond Preschool.

Dr. Z’s Helpful Hints: Don’t use google all the time (because all references and opinions pop up); it can potentially take away from the learning experience. Also for educators, create an essay assignment comparing and contrasting Jack’s fall and Humpty Dumpty’s fall. You can begin teaching your students how to cite sources.

If you have other ideas, please share them with us at socialbridgesinc@gmail.com or leave a comment below. For educational consulting, literacy coaching, small business setup, non-profit setup, dissertation coaching, and family educational guidance, please contact me, Dr. Z. at thelingofactoryllc@gmail.com or visit my website at www.thelingofactory.com.

Editing by adaryllmoore@amooreenterprises.org


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Dr. Zwila Martinez

One Fun and Creative Way to Reduce the 30-Million Word Deficit: Part 2

In Part 2 of this blog post, I want to share with you 5 reasons why using themes as a vocabulary intervention is an important approach to building and improving vocabulary with your learners. I promise that this blog won’t be as long as the first part, however, I do believe that it is necessary to give you the foundation of an enduring issue in our homes and schools, vocabulary insufficiency. We must intervene early in order to change the outcomes that have been predetermined for our Black and Brown children by the age of 3. Not only do I desire that the 30-million word deficit be reduced but also that our children gain these 5 benefits that could expand their vocabulary knowledge.

  1. Exposure

I want to share a secret and if you’ve never heard this before, now you know. Knowledge is the main benefit of exposure. And if I can go a little further, “knowledge is power.” Now, I’m almost sure we all have heard that phrase before. This is true, and for our children, it is vital that they are exposed to a wide variety of words. A little advice from the doctor, make sure you are the first person to expose your children to the world, so you can celebrate their vocabulary and reading achievements with them.

  1. Culture

My short definition of culture is simply what we believe, how we act, who we are, and how we feel. Now, I know you’re probably wondering what this has to do with building or improving vocabulary. It’s very simple; language or vocabulary is the essential tool that helps explain culture. If we don’t possess this tool clearly, we can’t express to others who we are. This is why it is so critical that our children have the vocabulary to communicate who they are instead of accepting what others believe they are or say they are.

  1. Improvement in other Subject Areas

Using themes to build vocabulary can give our children an advantage in performing better in other subject areas. For example, learning about hurricanes can help our learner in Social Studies or History and in Science. I was part of history with Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, and I’m glad I can tell my story. More advice from the doctor, when finding words that relate to a topic or theme, search for vocabulary that pertains to other subject areas.

  1. Multiple Meaning Words

There are millions of words in the English language. And guess what, there are millions of them that have multiple meanings.  Each of those meanings depend on the context in which the word is being used. For example, in Part 1 of this blog, I told you that I began teaching my daughter words that are connected to hurricanes. One of the words was depression, and depression is one of those words that have multiple meanings pending the context in which it is being used. I explained to her that when depression is used in the medical world it means feeling sad and hopeless, and in the weather world, it means the early formation of a hurricane. To be quite honest with you, no matter the context in which I hear this word, I’m unhappy with the meaning.

  1. Increases Oral Vocabulary

Are you the parent or caregiver that tells your child/children “Be quiet, you talk too much?” Yes, I’ve said this, and I realized that I shouldn’t and you shouldn’t either. The reason is children are actually embedding words that they have heard or been taught in their long term memory. Besides, the more they talk, the more they build confidence and comfort in speaking with others.

These 5 reasons are just a few of many that readers on all grade levels benefit from learning vocabulary through themes.

Dr. Z’s Helpful Hints: To implement this strategy at home, choose a theme for the week, and add 3 to 5 words per day. This will keep the Reading Doctor away. Smile. 

If you have other ideas, please share them with us at socialbridgesinc@gmail.com or leave a comment below. For educational consulting, literacy coaching, small business setup, non-profit setup, dissertation coaching, and family educational guidance, please contact me, Dr. Z. at thelingofactoryllc@gmail.com, or visit my website at www.thelingofactory.com.

Editting by adaryllmoore@amooreenterprises.org

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photo credit: EpicTop10.com photopin (license)

photo credit: EpicTop10.com photopin (license)

photo credit: EpicTop10.com photopin (license)

Dr. Zwila Martinez

One Fun and Creative Way to Reduce the 30-Million Word Deficit: Part 1

Do you remember “ sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? This was a popular saying many Black children used when they were in arguments with one another. It is actually an idiom, which is an overexaggerated phrase.  Certainly, I said it, and I rolled my eyes and sucked my teeth, as well. Whether the words did hurt or not, you still said it. If I can insert my opinion, I think those words did hurt most of the time. But, what is hurting children from Black and marginalized homes now is a lack of words! As a matter of fact, 30 million of them by the age of 3. This is the amount of words that separates Black children from economically disadvantaged homes from their White peers in vocabulary. And, Brown children don’t fall too far behind.

So, now you’re probably wondering where this idea of a 30-million word deficit that many Black families struggle with comes from. Well, here’s what happened. Two researchers decided to observe Black and White families in their homes to get an idea of how much conversation activity was shared between the parents and children. By the way, the children were 7 months to 3 years old. These observations happened over a period of time, and their conclusion was Black children from low-income families’ vocabulary level was half the size of their non-minority peers. Because of this, these children could be at a significant disadvantage in completing school, maintaining a good career, and negatively impacting their own family. If you’re interested in reading more about this research, please see the link I posted below.

With knowing this information now, do you plan on looking for ways to partner with your child/children to increase their vocabulary skills? If you’re like me, I’m always searching for avenues and ways to build my children’s reading toolkit. One important tool for children to have is a large and rich vocabulary, and then the second would be the skillset to use it. Yes, there are many vocabulary interventions available, however, I want to focus on one in particular which is, learning vocabulary through themes. What I mean by themes is basically choosing a topic and selecting words that relate to it. For example, I live in a region where it’s hurricane season now until November. Because of this, I began to teach my 8-year-old daughter words she may hear on TV or the radio relating to hurricanes such as: meteorologist, evacuate, evacuation, depression, and debris. I also incorporated activities for her to use these words in such as sentences or explaining to me in her own words what each of them mean.

Using themes can be fun, innovative, and creative for everyone. Parents and caregivers you have all the autonomy to choose what you want your child/children to learn about and how much they can learn about a certain topic keeping in mind grade level vocabulary words. Also, when choosing themes, make sure it is one that your child/children are interested in. Here are some ideas that you can begin sparking their interest with in their early childhood years.

  1. Holidays
  2. Weather/Natural Disasters
  3. Medical Terms
  4. Monthly Celebrations 
  5. Seasons of the Year

These ideas are just the beginning of an ongoing list of themes that can offer vocabulary learning on all grade levels. We have a very large task and a huge responsibility to minimize this deficit, and here’s a way to begin doing it by using this strategy. In Part 2 of this blog, which will be released next week, I will share 5 reasons why using themes as a vocabulary intervention is an important approach to building and improving vocabulary. If you have other ideas, please share them with us at socialbridgesinc@gmail.com or leave a comment below. For educational consulting, literacy coaching, small business setup, non-profit setup, dissertation coaching, and family educational guidance, please contact me, Dr. Z. at www. thelingofactoryllc@gmail.com.

Here is the research link I mentioned earlier:


Editing by adaryllmoore@amooreenterprises.org.

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Dr. Zwila Martinez


5 Ways to Include Reading Activities at Home without Spending One Cent!!!

COVID-19 has been a thorn in many of our sides, causing many of us to lose jobs and forcing us to become what I call “parent-teachers.” Thank God, I do have a background in teaching, and I was able to step in and become that “parent-teacher.” But for many parents, this is definitely not the case. For several reasons despite my background in teaching, I found/find it very hard to teach my own children compared to teaching other children. But, we got through this last quarter of school, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming school year.

Photo by nappy from Pexels
Photo by nappy from Pexels

It is not new information that children from Black and Brown homes struggle in academics, particularly in reading at higher levels than their non-minority peers. This should be a serious concern with all educational stakeholders, especially us “parent-teachers,” with the understanding that this could cause a major setback with our own children during this pandemic. For many of us who have this concern, you are also probably wondering what you can do so that your child/children can stay afloat in their academics, especially in reading. No worries! I have five great recommendations of what can be done at home without spending one cent.

  1. Turn on Closed Caption Mode on TVs, video games, and other electronics

Closed Caption Mode was developed to assist those with hearing difficulties to enjoy watching their favorite shows. But, I find it to be useful for also aiding children with their reading skills. This tool is actually available at our fingertips. It’s amazing to know how much time is spent on reading the words rather than watching what’s on the screen. I also use the closed caption mode for my 6-year-old autistic son while watching videos on his tablet to increase speech and language development.

  1. Recipes

We all love a good recipe. For children, a good recipe probably is some kind of dessert, of course. This is quite okay and can be rewarding by having them read aloud the instructions of a recipe of choice and assisting them in preparing it. How fun and addictive this can become!!! There’s a possibility you may have the next master chef in your home with mad reading skills, of course.

  1. Junk Mail

As a child, I was very curious about what my parents were reading when they opened their mail. Some children share this same curiosity, and when you see it as a parent, pull out the junk mail. Just keep a few pieces around, because if you’re like me, most of this mail doesn’t make it in the house. Who would have known that there’s actually a purpose for junk mail?

  1. Labeling Items

Do you remember the scene from “The Color Purple” when Celie wanted to learn how to read? Yes, Nettie labeled items around the house; they read them daily. Many years later, this strategy still works. And, you can begin doing this in the early years of a child’s life to help with the 30-million-word gap that occurs with Black and Brown children.

  1. Instructions

Everything we buy comes with instructions. Depending on what the item is determines if we will read them. Sometimes, we don’t read them, because the print is so small. Here’s another great idea to involve our children in reading. Put their young eyes to work.

So, here are 5 ways you can get your children reading at home without spending one cent. If you have other ideas, please share them with us at socialbridgesinc@gmail or leave a comment below. For educational consulting, literacy coaching, small business setup, non-profit setup, dissertation coaching, and family educational guidance contact Dr. Z. at thelingofactoryllc@gmail.com.

Thanks so much for reading!!!

Editing by adaryllmoore@amooreenterprises.org.

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Dr. Zwila Martinez