Reading Comprehension Strategies for High School Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder


The following is from the article’s abstract. The abstract and information on accessing the full article are available on the TEACHING Exceptional Children website.

Maintaining a focus on reading comprehension is essential for students with ASD, as some will still need to develop this skill during their high school years. Two evidence-based approaches for reading comprehension for high school students with ASD are Alternate Achievement Literacy (AAL) and Collaborative Strategic Reading: High School (CSR-HS). AAL provides adaptations and modifications to support access and comprehension of chronologically age-appropriate text for students with ASD (Browder, Thompson, & Fallin, 2014). Targeted for students “learning to read,” the focus of AAL is for students to develop an understanding of text, rather than simply decoding functional sight words found in daily life. CSR-HS combines strategies of strategy instruction and corporative learning to improve reading comprehension throughout the reading process for individuals with ASD (Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk [MCPER], 2013). Students “reading to learn” use CSR-HS to work together to use evidence-based strategies to improve their ability to read text for understanding. This intervention is adapted from traditional CSR to be used with high school students with ASD.

Both AAL and CSR-HS were included as part of the Center on Secondary Education for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA), a comprehensive treatment package implemented and evaluated in a randomized controlled trial across the United States (Hume, Odom, Dewalt-Smith, Hall, & Kraemer, 2018). During CSESA’s development phase, the two reading comprehension interventions were adapted for high school students with ASD and embed EBPs that are effective for use with individuals with ASD (Wong et al., 2015). Both interventions are research based with published studies demonstrating effectiveness (Boardman, Klingner, Buckley, Annamma, & Lasser, 2015; Browder, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Flowers, & Baker, 2012; Browder, Trela, & Jimenez, 2007; Reutebuch, El Zein, Kim, Weinberg, & Vaughn, 2015).

AAL and CSR-HS approaches have resulted in gains in students’ reading comprehension. Specifically, when three teachers used a checklist to adapt literacy materials using the strategies of AAL, all six of their students increased the number of independent, or unprompted, correct responses to reading comprehension questions (Browder et al., 2007). When compared to elementary school students with severe developmental disabilities exposed to a site word approach, students participating in a multicomponent early literacy program with the same strategies as AAL had significantly higher mean literacy scores on standardized measures of vocabulary, nonverbal literacy, and early reading skills (Browder et al., 2012). In comparison to “business as usual” in a randomized controlled trial study, middle school students participating in the full CSR program in science and social studies classes scored higher on a standardized reading comprehension assessment (Boardman et al., 2015). Also, in a pilot study of CSR for high school students, there were increases in accuracy with reading comprehension from multiple-choice responses for two of the three participants with ASD, along with increases in social responding and decreasing in challenging behavior during CSR sessions for all students (Reutebuch, El Zein Kim, et al., 2015).

The CSESA implementation team noted that in many schools, teachers often struggled to provide reading comprehension instruction at the secondary level. Following at least one semester of coaching in both AAL and CSR, students with ASD made progress on individualized goals that included accurately answering wh- questions, identifying and defining key vocabulary words from a passage, effectively using a graphic organizer or other visual supports to identify or paraphrase the main ideas in a passage, and answering comprehension questions correctly, including questions containing inferences and figurative language.


Brum, C., Hall, L. J., Reutebuch, C., & Perkins, Y. (2019). Reading comprehension strategies for high school students with autism spectrum disorder. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 52(2), 88–97.