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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2 thoughts on “6 Helpful Tips for Teaching Reading to a Child with Autism

  1. Dr. Z:

    Once again, a very informative Blog that we can all glean from. Your experiences and ability to be transparent and humble are helping many and will help even more than you presently realize. Please give Zen and yiur entire family our absolute best.

    Very Respectfully,

    – The Moultrie Family

  2. Dr. Z,

    Thank you for sharing your personal story about your son Zen. I can imagine your emotions but can not fathom the experience. You have shed light on Autism in education and because of that, the world will benefit from your vulnerability. Out of all the resources you listed Nurture and Love is the most important. All of our students need this modeled and expressed daily.

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