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Reading achievement for students with autism and students with learning disability: A comprehensive examination of five key areas of reading


Students with ASD present as unique learners with individual characteristics which may impact their reading performance, particularly related to word reading and comprehension. While a relatively new area of research in reading, students with ASD demonstrate a pattern of below average performance on standardized measures of reading achievement, with comprehension identified as a salient area of deficit. Research remains limited in this area, however, particularly with regard to assessment of the five key areas of reading (phonological awareness, word reading/ decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). The current study provides an in-depth look at the five key areas of reading for 28 elementary-school students with a confirmed ASD and compares the reading performance of these students with a comparison group of 30 students with SLD who would be expected to show the reverse pattern of performance on reading measures (e.g., deficits in decoding and strengths in comprehension). Additionally, a mixed-methods approach is used in the exploratory examination of student reading behaviors related to comprehension. Findings indicate patterns of strengths and weaknesses for both groups of students across the five key areas, with both groups falling well below expected population norms and benchmarks in phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, and passage comprehension. In contrast, students from both groups excelled on a measure of supported comprehension. Students with ASD performed at higher levels than peers with SLD on measures of word reading and fluency, but not on measures of phonological awareness or decoding. Conversely, students with SLD performed at higher levels than peers with ASD on a measure of listening comprehension, but not on measures of vocabulary, supported comprehension, or passage comprehension. Exploratory investigation revealed that teachers perceived that students with SLD use reading behaviors at a higher rate and with a higher level of proficiency to promote comprehension than peers with ASD. Further, student interviews demonstrated that students who were low comprehenders used fewer and more passive strategies than students who were high comprehenders, regardless of ASD or SLD group membership. Implications for practice and future research are noted.

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