Helping Children with Autism Develop Comprehension Skills

What are comprehension skills?

Comprehension skills refer to the ability to understand, interpret, and derive meaning from various types of texts, spoken language, and other forms of communication. These skills are essential for academic success, effective communication, and daily functioning. Comprehension involves more than just understanding the literal meaning of words; it requires higher-order thinking processes such as making inferences, analyzing information, and evaluation of context among many other cognitive functions.

Let’s review some key components of comprehension skills:

  • Understanding Main Ideas: The ability to identify the central themes or main points of a text or conversation.
  • Drawing Inferences: Inferring meaning from implicit information, context clues, and prior knowledge.
  • Making Connections: Relating the information in a text to personal experiences, other texts, or real-world events.
  • Summarizing: Condensing the main ideas and key details of a text into a concise overview.
  • Predicting: Anticipating what will happen next in a text based on clues and evidence.
  • Analyzing Text Structure: Recognizing the organizational structure of different types of texts (e.g., narrative, expository, persuasive) and understanding how it influences comprehension.
  • Evaluating: Assessing the credibility, accuracy, and effectiveness of information presented in a text.
  • Monitoring Comprehension: Actively monitoring understanding while reading or listening and using strategies to clarify confusion or resolve difficulties.
  • Synthesizing Information: Combining information from different parts of a text to form a coherent understanding of the whole.
  • Visualizing: Creating mental images or representations of the content described in a text to aid comprehension.
  • Questioning: Generating questions before, during, and after reading or listening to deepen understanding and stimulate critical thinking.
  • Active Listening: Engaging attentively with spoken language, processing verbal information, and responding appropriately.
  • Critical Thinking: Applying reasoning skills to analyze, evaluate, and interpret information critically.

These skills are interconnected and develop over time through exposure to diverse texts, guided practice, explicit instruction, and opportunities for meaningful engagement with language. Effective instruction and support can help individuals improve their comprehension skills across various contexts and content areas.

How do people with autism struggle with comprehension skills?

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience challenges with comprehension skills due to differences in cognitive processing, sensory sensitivity, communication difficulties, and social interaction impairments.

Let’s review some ways in which individuals with autism may struggle with comprehension skills:

  • Literal Interpretation: Many individuals with autism tend to interpret language literally, which can lead to difficulties understanding idiomatic expressions, sarcasm, metaphors, and other non-literal language forms.
  • Difficulty with Abstract Concepts: Abstract concepts and ideas may be challenging for individuals with autism to grasp. They may struggle to understand complex or ambiguous information that requires inferential thinking or the ability to draw connections between concepts.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities, such as sensitivity to noise, textures, or visual stimuli, can distract individuals with autism and interfere with their ability to attend to and comprehend spoken language or written text.
  • Executive Functioning Deficits: Executive functioning difficulties, common in individuals with autism, can affect skills such as organization, planning, and problem-solving, making it harder to effectively process and retain information.
  • Social Communication Impairments: Challenges with social communication, including difficulties with nonverbal cues, eye contact, and understanding social context, can impact comprehension during social interactions and in interpreting written or spoken language.
  • Difficulty with Perspective-Taking: It may sometimes be challenging for people with autism to understand another person’s perspective (although this is not always true, of course)..
  • Attention and Focus Issues: Many individuals with autism struggle with attention and focus, particularly on topics that are not related to their special interests, which can make it challenging to sustain attention during reading or listening activities, leading to gaps in comprehension.
  • Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests: Preoccupation with repetitive behaviors or intense interests may interfere with engagement in learning activities and limit exposure to diverse content, affecting comprehension across various topics.
  • Language and Communication Delays: Some individuals with autism experience delays or differences in language development, including expressive and receptive language skills, which can impact their ability to comprehend spoken or written language at the same level as their peers.
  • Anxiety and Stress: Anxiety and stress related to social situations, sensory overload, or academic demands can further impede comprehension by affecting attention, cognition, and emotional regulation.

It’s important to recognize that individuals with autism have diverse strengths and challenges, and comprehension difficulties can vary widely among them. Tailored support, including visual aids, structured learning environments, and individualized instruction, can help address these challenges and promote the development of comprehension skills in individuals with autism.

Helping children with autism develop comprehension skills.

Helping children with autism develop comprehension skills can be a multifaceted process that requires individualizing your approach to the person’s strengths, needs, and abilities.

Let’s review some approaches that may be helpful in supporting the development of comprehension skills in children with autism spectrum disorder:

  • Visual Supports: Many children with autism are visual learners. Providing visual aids such as pictures, charts, and diagrams can enhance comprehension. Visual schedules, social stories, and graphic organizers can help them understand concepts and sequences better.
  • Use Concrete Examples: Children with autism often benefit from concrete examples and experiences to understand abstract concepts. Use real-life objects or experiences to illustrate concepts and make them more tangible.
  • Simplify Language: Use clear and concise language when communicating with the child. Break down complex ideas into smaller, more understandable parts. Avoid idiomatic expressions and ambiguous language.
  • Utilize Special Interests: Incorporate the child’s special interests into learning activities. Using topics or objects they are passionate about can increase engagement and motivation, leading to better comprehension.
  • Provide Structured Learning: Establishing routines and clear expectations can help children with autism feel more comfortable and focused, which in turn can improve comprehension. Create a structured learning environment with consistent schedules and clear instructions.
  • Interactive Learning Activities: Engage the child in interactive activities that encourage participation and communication. Games, role-playing, and hands-on activities can make learning more enjoyable and effective.
  • Social Skills Training: Many children with autism struggle with understanding social cues and context. Social skills training programs can help them comprehend social situations better and improve their interactions with others.
  • Multi-Sensory Approaches: Incorporate multiple senses into learning activities. Combining visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli can enhance comprehension and retention of information.
  • Provide Feedback and Reinforcement: Offer positive reinforcement and constructive feedback to encourage the child’s efforts and progress. Celebrate successes, no matter how small, to boost confidence and motivation.
  • Collaborate with Professionals: Work closely with educators, therapists, and other professionals who specialize in autism to develop personalized strategies and interventions tailored to the child’s specific needs and strengths. You can contact Behavioral Innovations to request services from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who is trained in helping children with autism develop a variety of skills including comprehension skills.

Remember that every child with autism is unique, so it’s essential to adapt strategies based on individual strengths, challenges, and preferences. Compassion, consistency, and a supportive environment are key to helping children with autism develop their comprehension skills effectively.

Previous ArticleTeaching Your Nonspeaking Child to Use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Next ArticleThe Sudden Rise of AuDHD : Coexistence of ADHD and Autism