An investigation of reading abilities and the impact of programmed instruction on reading outcomes in children with autism specrtum disorder
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This thesis investigates reading abilities and programmed instruction, i.e., instruction that is scripted and sequenced, with explicit learning goals, based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis, in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The purpose of this work was to examine the levels of reading abilities in children with ASD and to ascertain reading outcomes following programmed instruction (i.e., Edmark®; Headsprout®). Furthermore, the studies aimed to investigate the impact of curriculum delivery, more specifically, programmed instruction with parent as facilitators and computer-assisted delivery versus print-based formats on standardised and direct reading outcomes. Additional investigations were conducted to identify accommodations/supports necessary throughout the delivery of such programmed reading instruction. An online survey was administered to educators of children with ASD in Chapter 2 to gain information regarding reading instruction in schools and services across Ireland. There were a total of 60 respondents. Results indicated that standardised reading assessments were often not taken within educational settings among children with ASD. Additionally, there was little use of computer assisted instruction (CAI) and reading curricula were not selected based on empirical evidence of efficacy. Chapter 3 examined the reading performance of a nationally representative sample of 110 children with ASD. The sample was divided into two groups by age; under six years (Group 1) and over six years (Group 2). Core reading components were assessed, which included; word reading, comprehension, phonological awareness, reading rate, vocabulary, accuracy and non-word reading across both groups. Language abilities and autism symptom severity were also assessed to examine possible correlations with reading skills. The data demonstrated impaired reading skills across all reading components in both groups, with the exception of word reading pre-requisites for Group 1 and reading rate for Group 2. In an analysis of the full sample, many participants performed within the lowest possible range (standard score ≤55) on standardised tests of reading in particular, reading comprehension (82%) and phonological awareness (62%). The largest relationship with language skills was in vocabulary and non-word reading and there were large negative correlations between ASD severity and word reading and non-word reading. A between-group design was used to investigate the Edmark® Reading Program (ERP) among children with ASD in Chapter 4. In school settings, ERP was compared on reading outcomes using the presentations of table-top instruction (TTI) and computerised-assisted instruction (CAI). Thirty-one participants were assigned to each condition using cluster random sampling. There were statistically significant differences found in favour of TTI on reading accuracy, reading rate, and phonemic awareness, specifically first sound fluency between conditions at post-testing. A between-group design was used to evaluate Headsprout® on the reading outcomes and print motivation of a sample of 26 children with ASD in Chapter 5. Headsprout® was implemented at home by parents who received training on the identification of learning difficulties, whereby additional support was provided to participants based on these specific learning problems. Results demonstrated that participants who received Headsprout® showed overall greater gains, more specifically in phonological awareness and in the target sound and words of Headsprout®. The results of print motivation demonstrated that only the print material specific to the program had an increase in preference at post-tests. Findings indicate that this reading program can be successfully implemented with children with ASD by parents in the home environment, with the addition of adaptations and learning support
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