What is the Best Way to Teach Autistic Students that Struggle with Reading?

There is a lot of information about helping students with processing disorders (such as dyslexia) with reading, but what about other disorders? How can teachers help students that struggle with reading because of autism?

Here is Reading Horizons Teacher Trainer, Shantell Berrett, answering this question (her answer is mostly targeted towards Reading Horizons program, however, the concepts she discusses reveal best practices in general):

Here are some of the key points from Shantell’s video:

Students that are autistic or that have a low IQ respond well to instruction that is simple, systematic, and hands-on.


Autistic students have a difficult time filtering and prioritizing information because their brain sees every input as being equally important. This is the result of the way their working memory works. Because students with autism have a difficult time prioritizing information, a simple approach is very helpful. This helps remove the need for these students to have prioritize information while learning how to read.


As discussed, autistic students have a difficult time filtering and prioritizing information. Because of this autistic students prefer and work best in an environment that has a lot of structure and organization. Not only do they work well under a structured environment, but they also work well with a structured curriculum. A systematic course that only introduces one skill at a time and that progresses in a step by step fashion helps these students while they are learning to read.


Like many students, a visual, hands on, multisensory approach helps keep autistic students engaged in what they are learning. While learning, autistic students receive a lot of stimulus in their brain that causes them to move a lot. Multisensory instruction helps autistic students channel their urge to move into what they are learning. 

Learn more about multisensory instruction in this free webinar: "The Essential Need for Orton Gillingham Based Reading Instruction" >

Other Approaches

Shantell mentions that there are some that argue that the best approach for teaching reading to autistic students is to have them memorize lists of words since they have a knack for memorization. BUT, Shantell points out that was the method that was believed to be the most beneficial for dyslexics for a long time, and as it was researched, found to be a poor approach for dyslexics. A brain only has a capacity to remember so much. A simple, systematic, hands on approach is great because it empowers autistic students with skills that don’t make them reliant on memorization.

1 Comment

  • Tefl online

    Yes, there are lots of students that struggle with reading because of autism. As per my perception I also strongly believe that students that have a low intellect, react well to coaching that is simple, systematic, and hands-on.

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Apr 13 2012

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