We had to work on a lot of basic language comprehension tasks first. He needed to explicitly learn directional language, positional language, seriation. We worked on vocabulary in categories: parts of the body, vehicles, animals, tools. We practiced sentence frames for both oral and written language. We worked on the “question words” (where, when, who etc) with a lot of pictures, story strips, story maps. We used highlighters to go through very short texts to underline words or phases that tell who, or what or when. Although the experts say that children with autism are “visual learners,” this student was not. His auditory skills were far superior to his visual skills.
We had to teach pronouns, verb tenses and other syntactic features of text very explicitly. I got a number of good resources from Super Duper Publications and also used “Language for Learning” and “Language for Thinking,” which are DI programs, but modified somewhat in presentation – it was occasionally necessary to re-phrase the script, and to teach the lessons via back-chaining. My district is very big on teaching “inference” and “prediction” and other “comprehension strategies.” This was a big challenge. We used pictures and got to the point where the student could make statements about the picture that were inferential in nature (like, what season it was, how a person depicted was feeling) and explain his answer in a concrete way, but we didn’t get to the point where he could do this with text. “Prediction” depended on understanding verb tenses and cause/effect in a pretty abstract manner and I don’t feel we got anywhere with this, either. Working with informational text seemed more productive.
The issue of teaching reading comprehension to kids with autism is bound up with how to develop their language skills generally, and a lot of generalists like me don’t have a deep knowledge of the relevant research and resources.