Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders


The Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders project (Project READ) aims to develop a comprehensive reading comprehension and behavior intervention for students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in grades 4–8 who also display adequate word reading skills and low reading comprehension. 

Research will be conducted over 3 years in Texas and California school districts and through referrals from local agencies that currently provide services to students with ASD. School sites include high concentrations of socioeconomically and ethnically diverse students and reflect authentic educational settings in two separate geographic regions. 

Project READ intervention instruction will include (a) main idea, (b) question development, and (c) anaphoric cueing. Researchers will enhance the instruction with graphic organizers and positive behavior support techniques, including an interest inventory to determine reading material choice based on a student’s perseverative interest and other types positive reinforcement. A token economy and other the techniques of positive behavior support, including shaping, prompting, and prompt fading, will be part of the instructional routines.

Project Design


The purpose of this project is to develop an innovative reading comprehension intervention for students identified with ASD in grades 4–8 with adequate verbal ability, adequate word reading, and low reading comprehension, based on standard scores from standardized measures of language and reading. The Project READ intervention will specifically address the reading comprehension difficulties and behavior of many children with ASD. The project will support further investigation of reading difficulties for students with ASD as part of an iterative process to improve the Project READ intervention.


Researchers will use a mixed-methods approach, including design experiments (Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003; Gersten, Baker, & Lloyd, 2000), focus groups (Vaughn, Schumm, & Sinagub, 1996), observations (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2013), and single-case design studies (Kratochwill et al., 2010). For the pilot study of feasibility, a matched, randomized group study design will be employed prior to final revisions and dissemination of findings. Research teams will develop and formatively refine the Project READ intervention through successive iterations, including prototype designs, field testing, and further refinements.


Students enrolled in public school settings identified with ASD in grades 4–8 who also display adequate word reading skills and low reading comprehension


Recent findings from a 10-year longitudinal study of reading achievement revealed that students with ASD develop reading skills at a much slower pace than children with learning disabilities (Wei, Blackorby, & Schiller, 2011). Students with low-incidence disabilities such as ASD are not performing well in reading—with rates of nonresponse to interventions as high as 50% (Al Otaiba & Fuchs, 2002). Teachers, parents, and educational administrators expressed concerns about the adequacy of reading instruction for children with ASD almost 2 decades ago (Koppenhaver, Pierce, & Yoder, 1995). Although there are still many unanswered questions, there is general agreement that many individuals with ASD have difficulties with reading comprehension (Fleury et al., 2014). These difficulties may also affect postsecondary outcomes, which continue to be problematic—college enrollment for individuals with ASD are among the third lowest of all 11 disability categories (National Longitudinal Study – 2, 2011). Improved performance in reading comprehension is critical for students with ASD and potentially can increase attendance in college and later meaningful employment.  

Higher levels of reading comprehension are associated with greater gains in other academic areas, higher levels of employment, increased independence, and overall improved quality of life (Lyon, 1998). Furthermore, individuals with ASD may benefit by becoming specialized in a field so that organizations are willing to pay for their unique skill, and it has been suggested that improved academic performance may be just as important as social skills training for individuals with ASD (Grandin, Duffy, & Atwood, 2004). Very little is known about how the mechanisms of reading development for typical readers influence reading development for children with ASD (Chiang & Lin, 2007). As rates of ASD continue to increase dramatically in the United States (1 in 88 children in 2008 and 1 in 68 children in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) so does the need for research in support of developing empirically validated interventions.