Children with autism often acquire language and literacy later than neurotypical kids and this can lead to many mistaken assumptions about their intelligence and ability to learn.
Paula Kluth argues* that teachers should abandon the notion of a literacy ladder in favor of a literacy web. The ladder requires the student to master skills in order to move on and leaves some students stuck at the bottom. The web gives students many types of exposure to literacy activities. Some children with autism comprehend stories and can engage in literature projects long before they can read fluently. Some students may suddenly read whole passages without ever "learning" sight words or other intervening literacy rungs.
If teachers embrace the non-sequential learning, literacy in the general education classroom becomes accessible to all learners.
Of course, the instruction should not be of the sink or swim type. To truly include all learners, teachers must observe and respond to individual learning styles. Kluth suggests many strategies, such as using individual interests, visuals, writing down instructions, reading aloud and echo reading, and multiple texts.
As always, I'm struck by how helpful these strategies can be for all learners.
Next week I'll discuss what Kluth writes about comprehension.
*Chapter 8 "Seeing Students with Autism as Literate" in You're Going to Love This Kid.
Researchers Kliewer and Biklen originated the idea.
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