Engaging Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Shared Book Reading: For Whom Does Dialogic Reading Work?

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
V. P. Fleury1 and I. S. Schwartz2, (1)FPG Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC, (2)University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background: Reading aloud to children is a common practice during early childhood. While no one style of book reading may be best for all children, actively participating during reading activities (e.g., initiating comments, posing questions, responding to questions) is almost always better than passive listening that can occur when adults simply read the text.  Dialogic reading is a particular method of shared story reading in which the adult uses specific question prompts to encourage children to talk during reading. There is, however, limited research that examines the appropriateness of dialogic reading strategies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  Specifically, little is known about the quality of engagement in shared reading activities for this population who may particularly have difficulty engaging in shared reading due to social-communication difficulties that are characteristic of the disorder.

Objectives:  To determine the effect of modified dialogic reading on the following outcomes for children with ASD: (a) participation during book reading performance, and (b) knowledge of vocabulary specifically targeted in books.  Because individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) show great variability in the expression and severity of their behavioral symptoms, we also examined whether measures of ASD severity related to differences in these outcomes.

Methods: We used a multiple baseline design across participants to examine the effect of a modified dialogic reading approach on active participation in 9 preschool children with ASD who, at minimum, had flexible phrase speech. Baseline book reading sessions consisted of school personnel reading to children “as they would normally.” Intervention book reading sessions consisted of school personnel reading to children using a modified dialogic reading approach.  Teacher/child dyads selected one book to read for the entire week.   Children’s level of active engagement -- defined as the rate of verbal participation per minute -- was coded from video. A member of the research team administered a book-specific vocabulary test at the beginning of the week and again at the end of the week in order to assess gains in vocabulary knowledge.

Results: Children were matched for ASD severity based on Autism Index scores on the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale.  Visual analysis reveals that all children, regardless of ASD severity, demonstrated a similar pattern of active engagement during book reading.  Baseline book reading resulted in consistently low levels of verbal participation followed by an immediate increase in verbal participation during dialogic book reading sessions.  Similarly, ASD severity does not appear differentially affect vocabulary growth. Compared to baseline book reading, dialogic book reading resulted in greater gains in book-specific vocabulary for all children.

Conclusions: Modified dialogic reading was effective in improving active participation for all children who participated in the present study, regardless of ASD severity.  Actively participating in book reading also appears to have collateral benefits in vocabulary knowledge. In light of the preliminary outcomes in this study, we suggest that dialogic reading techniques may be a promising practice that can be incorporated in early intervention programming for children with ASD pending further rigorous study that replicate and extend these findings.