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New Research Demonstrates Gains in Emergent Reading Skills for Adolescents with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities

Don Johnston, publisher of assistive technologies and literacy software for students with special needs, has shared new research to demonstrate improvement gains in the emergent reading skills of adolescents with autism, intellectual and multiple disabilities. The research was conducted by Penelope Hatch, Ph.D., CCC-SLP at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and proved that access to age/ability-appropriate books helped teachers improve reading skills.

(PRWEB) April 14, 2010 -- Don Johnston Incorporated, publisher of assistive technologies and literacy software for students with special needs, has shared new research to demonstrate improvements in the emergent reading skills of adolescents with autism, intellectual and multiple disabilities. The research was conducted by Penelope Hatch, Ph.D., CCC-SLP at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The seven-week intervention studied 43 students in total, ages 12 to 21, with diverse ethnicities and exceptionalities. Dr. Hatch designed the study to determine the effects on students’ daily reading experiences using age/ability-appropriate text with two groups of teachers: those trained to teach comprehensive literacy instruction and teachers without this training. Each student group read Don Johnston’s Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters, a collection of computer and paperback books designed for non-readers and students reading at beginning levels. They read for 30 minutes a day in self-selected reading assignments, teacher-led instruction or a combination of the two practices.

“Traditionally, special education teachers kept their approach narrow when teaching students with significant disabilities to read,” said Dr. Hatch. “This approach typically involves using only sight words or learning the alphabet through decontextualized drill and practice. Our study set out to determine: 1) if students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities could improve their reading skills when given daily access to age/ability-appropriate books; and 2) if students made more improvement when taught by teachers who were trained and familiar with teaching comprehensive literacy instruction.”

The results in Table I demonstrate that both student groups (those with teachers who were trained with comprehensive literacy instruction and those who did not receive the training) achieved literacy gains measured in a pre-test/posttest assessment of emergent literacy skills. There was a significant difference between the average pretest and posttest performance for the 43 students. The first group improved their scores by 5%. Students in Group 2 who were taught by teachers trained on comprehensive literacy instruction improved by 8%. These students focused on word and vocabulary instruction, reading comprehension and writing.

“In schools today we need to question our assumptions about the literacy potential of adolescents with severe disabilities and whether our assumptions are based on fact or erroneous perceptions,” said Dr. Hatch. Her additional observations in the research include:

  • Teachers and students benefit from and need access to quality age/ability reading materials.
  • Teachers and administrators need to be aware of the value of comprehensive literacy instruction for students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities.
  • Teachers need training in how to deliver comprehensive literacy instruction.

The complete research study is entitled, Adolescents with Autism, Intellectual and Multiple Disabilities Improve Emergent Reading Skills in 7-Week Study, and you can read it on the Don Johnston website under Case Studies.

“We appreciate Dr. Hatch’s independent research using our Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters and all of the fine work that the University of NC, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies does for students,” said Ben Johnston, Director of Marketing for Don Johnston Incorporated. “This study should cause us to re-examine our expectations of students with significant disabilities. With high expectations, the right materials and high-quality instruction, we can improve literacy for the students who have been written off as non-readers.”

Resource Links:

Dr. Penny Hatch - Research Study

Download the PDF of Dr. Hatch's Research:

About Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters:

About Don Johnston Incorporated

Don Johnston empowers educators with specialized accessible technologies and supported reading and writing tools for students with cognitive, physical, and learning differences. Since 1980, the company has partnered with literacy experts, assistive technology specialists, speech language pathologists, psychologists, teachers, researchers, universities and scientists to develop over a dozen accessible technology products. The company also publishes Start-to-Finish®, a collection of paperback, audio and computer books for students reading below grade level.


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