UC Riverside has received $3.8 million from the Institute of Education Sciences to study the effectiveness of a reading comprehension intervention for students with autism. The study, led by education professor Michael Solis, will implement a fully developed reading intervention program in high-need elementary and middle schools in the Inland Empire region of Southern California and Central Texas. Sharon Vaughn and Colleen Reutebuch from The University of Texas at Austin are also working on the project.
The intervention, called Reading Enhancements for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or Project READ-ASD, was designed to address the lack of evidence-based reading comprehension approaches for students with autism. The intervention was developed over a four-year period with multiple iterations as part of a previously funded IES development project that Solis led as principal investigator.
Project READ-ASD addresses the slower rates of reading progress of students with autism compared to other students, including students with learning disabilities and dyslexia. Parents, teachers, and educational administrators have bemoaned the lack of this type of reading intervention for over two decades.
For students with autism, improving reading comprehension is critical, increasing both their opportunities of attending college and obtaining 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.
Project READ-ASD’s intervention consists of vocabulary acquisition, fluency with text, and reading comprehension instruction delivered in 50, 30-minute, one-on-one daily tutoring sessions. These components gradually increase in difficulty level by first focusing on word-level meaning, then sentence-level comprehension, and finally multi-paragraph passage comprehension. The reading materials vary in difficulty to meet students’ individual needs.
In a recently published pilot study from the development project, students with mild symptom severity who received READ-ASD intervention showed moderate improvement on a standardized measure of reading comprehension when compared to a control group. The effects were less pronounced for students with greater symptom severity, suggesting the need for more customized interventions. The results suggested that, with fine-tuning and a larger scale study, the proposed intervention method has the potential to have a positive impact on reading growth for students.
“My research team is very excited about the opportunity to partner with school districts on this project. We view this as an opportunity to work with school districts to address the concerns raised regarding the impact of the pandemic on academic growth for children with autism spectrum disorder,” Solis said.
The study will take place over five years and will include three nonoverlapping cohorts of students who meet specified criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Students will be matched to pairs and then randomly assigned to treatment and business-as-usual comparison conditions. Pretest and posttest measures will be administered before and after the intervention with follow-up data collected approximately three months following treatment.
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