Supporting Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to Read for Meaning

Two undergraduate students from the BA (Hons) Childhood Studies programme have been awarded scholarships, funded by the University of Leeds ESSL faculty and the Alumni fund. They have been assisting Dr Paula Clarke with a new study that aims to evaluate the current support that is available to individuals with ASD regarding reading comprehension and to develop a computerised reading comprehension assessment that is tailored to the needs of those with ASD.

The project is split into three phases:

  • The first phase involves the completion of questionnaires. These have been designed for teaching staff to fill out and ask about current methods of support and assessment. This will provide a snapshot of current approaches that are being used to support reading comprehension development in schools, and will allow us to understand the usefulness of the approaches, through the opinions of the professionals that use them to aid children with ASD.
  • The second phase of the study is a series of observations. The first scholarship has involved developing and trialling an observation schedule to document the different ways in which reading comprehension is supported in the classroom by teachers and teaching assistants. We plan to use this observation schedule to collect data from a number of classes, across different schools with a variety of age groups of children. This will give further insight into the methods that teaching staff find to be most effective when supporting reading comprehension in individuals with ASD
  • Finally, the third phase consists of an evaluation of reading comprehension assessment. This has been the focus of the second scholarship. Traditionally, reading comprehension assessments involve the child reading aloud and an experimenter asking the child open ended questions about a passage. Individuals with ASD often have difficulties in social interaction and the pragmatic aspects of communication. Therefore, it is possible that due to these differences, traditional assessments may not provide an accurate estimate of reading comprehension ability in children who have ASD. The research will compare human and computer presented versions of standardised assessments and pilot a bespoke computerised reading comprehension assessment that will be tailored to the needs of those with ASD. This will be designed in collaboration with teaching staff and by taking into account existing evidence from the research literature.

This work is still in its early stages, the majority of the data collection is planned for between September 2010 and September 2011.