Friday, December 13, 2013

Education Friday - Gabler Part Two

How I Taught My Nonverbal Child with Autism to Read

Hello. My name is Martha Gabler and I am the parent of a nonverbal teenage son with autism. When I reported to Spectrum Mom that my son can read, she asked me to describe how I taught him. 
Here is part two of my story:

Here are the three steps I used to teach my son to read: 
  1. Make sure foundation skills are in place
  2. Use Direct Instruction reading programs
  3. Provide lots of supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and high levels of positive reinforcement.
Step Two: Use Direct Instruction Reading Programs
Many people are unfamiliar with the fact that there are scientific, research-validated methods for teaching academic skills. The most powerful and effective of these is a body of instructional programs known as “Direct Instruction.” 
These programs are based on both scientific principles of human learning and scientific principles of how to best teach specific academic skills. Direct Instruction (DI) curricula in reading, arithmetic, writing, spelling and language have a 40+ year record of delivering superior learning outcomes in all types of learners.

The specific program that I started with is a book by the founder of Direct Instruction, Dr. Siegfried Engelmann, entitled Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book is widely available at bookstores and on the internet and costs about $25. By the time we were on Lesson 17, my son was reading. We eventually moved on to the well-known Direct Instruction Reading Mastery series.

Keep in mind, however, that DI programs are designed for typically developing children who have speech. When you are working with a child with special needs, you have to approach things differently. It is very important to know your learner well and adapt the presentation so that your learner has success. Please note, I never made changes to the DI presentation itself. Primarily I provided extra supports, extra modeling, more repetition, or extra practice on certain parts of each lesson. Extra supports should be determined by the child’s level of performance.

Part Three of this essay will run next Friday, December 20.

Martha Gabler is the mother of a 17 year old nonverbal boy with severe autism. From her experience in working with her son she founded Kids’ Learning Workshop LLC, a tutoring center specializing in the use of Direct Instruction for learners with special needs. She is also the author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism; this book describes how to use positive reinforcement along with an event marker signal to increase functional behaviors in a child with autism. See

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