Friday, December 6, 2013

Education Friday Part One - Guest Expert Martha Gabler

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 my story:

It was very important to me that my son be able to read. I can accept that he has severe autism. I can accept that he is nonverbal. I could not accept that he would go through life not knowing how to read. It took me a long time and many hours of work. I made many mistakes. Eventually I succeeded. 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 One: Make Sure Foundation Skills are in Place

The skills a child with autism will need to begin reading instruction include the ability to sit at a table for at least 15-20 minutes and the ability to respond to questions or complete tasks (this is generally achieved through an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or VB (Verbal Behavior) program. 
During the pre-reading instruction, I focused on increasing 
the range of sounds my son could produce, and mastering 
as many labels of objects and actions as possible -
such as cat, dog, house, running, sitting, sleeping and so forth.

A comment on increasing the range of sounds: I used Dr. Martin Kozloff's excellent book, Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems, which has exact descriptions of how to have a child place his tongue and shape his mouth to make sounds. Since my son was nonverbal, I also used sign language to "sign" the sounds. This approach is similar to what is done in Verbal Behavior Therapy (VB); non-verbal learners are taught to respond with sign language. I have since learned that there is an effective pre-program called Visual Phonics. I am not familiar with it, but interested persons may wish to look into it.

Parts two and three of Martha Gabler's essay will run the next two Fridays 
(December 13 and December 21).

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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