A new study from the University of Washington College of Education offers new insights into the effectiveness of interventions designed to help young children with autism spectrum disorder develop into competent readers.

Professor Roxanne Hudson recently presented findings of her study comparing long-term outcomes from two emergent literacy interventions for preschool children with ASD at the annual meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children.

“For typically developing kids we know a lot about what they need to know when they hit kindergarten to be successful readers, but we don’t necessarily know that for kids with autism,” Hudson said.

In a new podcast, Hudson discusses her study, which of the interventions best prepared children for reading instruction in kindergarten, implications of her findings for educators and more.

Hudson’s study explored two interventions designed to help preschool children develop the proficiency in word reading and general language comprehension needed to read with comprehension.

The first, Interactive Book Reading, is designed to help children build their vocabulary by having an adult engage a student in discussion about a book being read. Hudson’s team adapted the strategy to make it more supportive for children with autism, with tutors delivering the intervention one-to-one, four days a week for 20 weeks.

The second intervention centered around building children’s phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of language). The intervention developed by Hudson’s team involved a routine in which children sang a song, did an activity, and then did another slightly different activity that worked on the same skill, with all of the activities involving manipulatives like blocks or some movement like tapping chopsticks.

The phonological awareness intervention also reduced language demands, for example, by having the tutors use shorter sentences and giving students an option to show they understood by clapping rather than having to speak. As with the other intervention, the phonological awareness intervention was delivered four days a week for 20 weeks.

Immediately after the interventions were delivered, children in the Interactive Book Reading group were much better off in expressive and receptive vocabularies, as well as listening comprehension,  than both the phonological awareness and control groups. Meanwhile, the group receiving the phonological awareness intervention showed improved phonological awareness, which is a challenging skill for children with autism.

However, a year later at the end of kindergarten, children who received the phonological awareness intervention were ahead on every measure, including vocabulary, understanding directions and oral and reading comprehension. At the same time, the Interactive Book Reading group had fallen behind the other children on vocabulary and understanding directions.

While Hudson noted several possibilities for why the results may have reversed a year after the interventions, she suspects something called lexical restructuring might be behind it.

“Maybe if you’ve improved your phonological awareness so that you’re more thoughtful about words, you’re able to analyze them better, maybe that helps your acquired vocabulary and helps you listen to language differently,” Hudson said. 

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Roxanne Hudson, Professor of Education
206-616-1945, rhudson@uw.edu

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu