Predicting Optimal Literacy Outcomes in Children

Published February 2018

Predicting Optimal Literacy Outcomes in Children on the Autism Spectrum in their First Year of Schooling

Learning to read and write is a pivotal skill in an increasingly literate world for all children, including children on the autism spectrum. Although reading is not considered a core area of impairment associated with autism spectrum disorders, previous research into reading performance of children on the spectrum has shown significant difficulties in reading that cannot be explained by a diagnosis of autism, low intelligence, or spoken language weaknesses alone (Brown, Oram-Cardy, & Johnson, 2013). However, surprisingly little research has been conducted into how young children on the spectrum develop their emergent literacy skills across meaning-related and print-related skills (Westerveld, Trembath, Shellshear, & Paynter, 2016).

To better understand the early literacy pathways of children on the spectrum, we initially recruited a cohort of 57 verbal preschool-age children on the spectrum, who had not yet started school (Westerveld et al., 2016; Westerveld et al., 2017). Our results indicated early strengths in print-related skills, such as letter knowledge and phonological awareness and weaknesses in meaning-related skills, particularly in story comprehension (Westerveld et al., 2017; Westerveld & Roberts, 2017). The current study followed these children as they transitioned into their first year of formal schooling to identify which, if any, emergent literacy skills would predict their reading accuracy and comprehension performance approximately one year later. This longitudinal study is the first of its kind to investigate factors that may predict and maintain reading advantage and disadvantage in young children on the spectrum.