Friday, December 20, 2013

Education Friday - Part Three 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 part three 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 Three: Provide supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and lots of high-value reinforcement

It is also very important to build a trusting relationship between the learner and the instructor. The child must have experience and confidence that he will only be asked to do tasks that he is capable of doing, and that he will only be asked to do tasks for the length of time he is comfortable performing them. The learner must be confident that the instructor will monitor the child’s emotional reactions and provide supports and respite as soon as he needs them. 
Also, the child needs high levels of reinforcement throughout the instructional sessions. Basically, the child needs to know that he will experience only success and reinforcement throughout the process; he should never experience failure, fatigue or frustration. It takes time and practice for the instructor and the learner to know how much they can 
do and when to stop.

So Where Are We Now?

I started teaching my nonverbal son with severe autism to read when he was 7. Now, at age 17 he can read fourth grade text at a fluency rate of 110 words per minute with no more than 0-2 errors. He easily decodes words like impression, binoculars, stationed and boasted. He is an excellent speller. He is completely comfortable with text and can work with charts, tables, diagrams and maps. Direct Instruction reading passages provide both fictional stories and academic content knowledge. As a result, he has learned a great deal about natural science, botany and animal behavior. When we go
out to parks he studies the signs and information panels 
along the hiking trails.

What about reading comprehension? Well, it is difficult to assess comprehension when the learner does not have the speech capacity to produce the answer to a question. In written comprehension questions he has made a lot of progress, especially when I see his eyes flash back and forth from the worksheet to the book to find the answer to a question. He does it with cool competence and joy. He works very hard at his reading, and his determination is touching to see.

Does he love reading? Yes. 
Is he proud of himself? Yes. 
Was it worth it? Yes. 
Letters, words, sentences and paragraphs are now part of my son’s world. Reading is natural for him. He will go through life with the ability to read. What was the most important thing? Direct Instruction, Direct Instruction, Direct Instruction.

Please feel free to contact me through my website below if you have any questions.

For more information about Direct Instruction, see below.

National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI),
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Dr. Siegfried Engelmann
Direct Instruction Reading, by Douglas W. Carnine, Jerry Silvert, Edward J. Kameenui.
Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems, by Dr. Martin Kozloff.

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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