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"Read with Me!": The Effect of Dialogic Reading On Early Literacy Outcomes for Preschoolers with Autism

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
V. Fleury, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: Children’s literacy development is believed to begin long before children receive formal reading instruction in elementary school. By participating in informal literacy activities early in life, such as adult-child storybook reading, children can develop a number of skills (i.e., oral language, print and letter knowledge, phonological awareness) that relate to later reading achievement (NELP, 2008; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). Given that children with special needs are at high risk for reading difficulties (Landgren, Kjellman, & Gillberg, 2003), it is especially important that they receive repeated opportunities and appropriate supports to participate in literacy activities beginning in early childhood. However, educators may encounter a number of difficulties in their attempts to provide appropriate literacy opportunities for their students with disabilities. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), features that are characteristic of their disorder may further impede their ability to participate in literacy activities, placing them particularly at risk for reading problems. The incorporation of dialogic reading techniques (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 2001) in adult-child book reading has been effective in improving early literacy skills in children with language delays and those from at-risk populations. There is, however, limited research that examines the potential utility of dialogic reading strategies for children with disabilities such as ASD.

Objectives: To determine the effect of dialogic reading on early literacy development in young children with ASD, specifically on children’s (1) performance on formal measures of emergent literacy knowledge; (2) knowledge of vocabulary specifically targeted in books; and (3) participation during book reading.

Methods: In this study, a multiple baseline design across participants was used to examine the effect of a modified dialogic reading approach on early literacy outcomes in 14 preschool students with ASD. Baseline book reading sessions consisted of school personnel reading to students “as they would normally.” Intervention book reading sessions consisted of school personnel reading to students using a modified dialogic reading approach.     

Results: School personnel who served as interventionists were able to learn modified dialogic reading techniques and appropriately apply the strategies in daily book reading with their students. Results indicate that dialogic reading was effective in improving some components of early literacy skills for children with ASD, particularly oral language skills. Baseline book reading, in which school personnel read to students “as they would normally,” resulted in consistently low levels of verbal participation by students followed by an immediate increase in verbal participation during dialogic book reading sessions.  Children in this study also showed improved outcomes in book-specific vocabulary and listening comprehension skills during book readings that incorporated dialogic reading techniques. There were no differences found in phonological awareness and print concepts.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that the incorporation of dialogic reading strategies during shared book reading is effective in improving oral language outcomes and participation in preschoolers with ASD. Dialogic reading is a promising practice that should be incorporated as a part of early literacy curriculum for children with ASD.

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