Utilizing Restricted Interests Improves Reading Comprehension

literacy research for autism

Narrow, specific interests are a characteristic for those with autism spectrum disorder. A group of university researchers wants to channel this tendency into a method that will improve literacy.

“Perseverative interest” is the term that describes this phenomenon. Researchers at UVA have discovered that by including a child’s restricted interests frequently in their reading material, literacy instruction may improve the child’s comprehension.

University of Virginia Curry School of Education Professor Michael Solis collaborated with Cleveland University Professor Farah El Zein and designed a literacy curriculum which uses a child’s specific interests frequently within a story. If a child loves trains, the texts references trains several times.

When he tested his model, Solis discovered that the method improved enagement with the material for the children who participated. They then performed better on curriculum-based tests as well following the experiment.

Solis was inspired to delve into this research after conducting a thorough search on the availability of instructional methods designed to improve the scholastic performance of children with autism. He discovered that there was a surprising lack of such data available on reading comprehension, and much of the data available lacked stringency.

According to Solis, most of the specialized instruction for autistic children focuses on improving their social skills and behavior. The most widely accepted methods for increasing reading comprehension among children with autism is to apply the same methods used for a variety of disabilities.

Since Solis is an expert on tailoring reading instruction to suit a variety of special needs, he set out to create a more specialized, and therefore more effective method of teaching reading comprehension to children with autism.

“Reading comprehension is critical to academic success, enabling attendance in college and meaningful employment,” Solis said to NBC29. “We really need to close that gap. Conventional reading interventions used in special education classrooms are not bringing the results with children of autism as they are with others.”