Strategic Reading Comprehension Intervention for Children with ASD: Developing an Observational Tool to Identify Patterns of Active Engagement and Instructional Support

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
N. J. Sparapani1, E. J. Solari2, N. S. McIntyre3, M. C. Zajic4, A. R. Henry3 and P. C. Mundy5, (1)School of Education, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (2)University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (3)University of California at Davis, Davis, CA, (4)University of California at Davis MIND Institute, Davis, CA, (5)University of California at Davis, Sacramento, CA

Children with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD) frequently access general education curricula but often experience reading comprehension difficulties (e.g., Nation et al., 2006; Whalon et al., 2009). It has been hypothesized that reading difficulties might be part of the expression of the social communication phenotype of HFASD (Randi et al., 2010). Thus, reading comprehension instruction may provide an important strategy to target social communication and academic skills in school-age children with ASD. Investigations identifying instructional strategies that impact student active engagement in reading instruction have important implications for children with ASD.


To develop an observational tool for identifying patterns of student active engagement and instructional support strategies that facilitate reading comprehension in children with ASD.


Twenty-one children with ASD between 7–11 years (M = 8.88, SD = 1.40; 80% male) participated in an 8-week (3x per week) reading intervention targeting listening comprehension and vocabulary. Each session was video-recorded and lessons averaged 36:03 minutes (SD= 5:05). All lessons included the following activities: 1) reviewing reading rules; 2) hand signals to prompt use of cognitive reading strategies; 3) listening to a story to practice narrative comprehension; 4) answering content questions to monitor understanding; and 5) reviewing vocabulary to build background knowledge. Children completed a battery of cognitive, language, and reading measures at the beginning and end of the intervention and parents completed questionnaires about their child’s social-emotional and academic development. Using the video-recorded observations and Noldus Observer® Video-Pro Software, student active engagement across three dimensions (Attention and Self-regulation, Initiating Communication, and Language Comprehension) and instructional strategies across four dimensions (Planning and Organizing, Scaffolding Questions, Supporting Comprehension, and Encouraging Participation) were coded at three time points; beginning, middle, and end of the intervention.


Preliminary results (n = 10) indicated that on average, children initiated communication 31.8 (SD = 18.21) times during the lesson; however, only 52% of these initiations (SD = 26.91) were on-topic (M = 16.1, SD = 11.55). On average, children responded to questions about instructional content 21.00 (SD = 11.45) times, with 62% (SD = 27.40) of their contributions demonstrating understanding (M = 14.2, SD = 10.34). Initiating off-topic comments (r = 0.81, p < 0.05) was positively related to Communication subscale scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS; Constantino, 2012), and challenges answering questions that require thinking or inferential reasoning (r = 0.67, p < 0.03) was positively related to SRS Total scores. After controlling for pretest scores on the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT-2; Williams, 2007; M = 70.20, SD = 18.49), initiating on-topic questions demonstrated a trend-level relation to expressive vocabulary measured by the EVT-2 at posttest (r = 0.95, p= 0.06).


These data suggest that differences in active engagement in reading comprehension instruction may interact with individual differences in ASD related symptom intensity. These findings provide preliminary data suggesting that the tendency to initiate communication at a high rate, struggle with inferencing, and ask content-related questions about the text may moderate response to intervention in children with ASD.