Initial Efficacy Trial of Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders


The Initial Efficacy Trial of Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders (Project READ-ASD) will evaluate a comprehensive reading comprehension intervention for students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in grades 4–8 who also display adequate word reading skills and low reading comprehension. 

Beginning in 2023, research will be conducted over 3 years in Texas and California school districts. Tutors trained and supervised by The University of Texas at Austin will provide one-one-one tutoring to those assigned to the Project READ-ASD condition for 50 lessons that take place 30 minutes daily. Participants randomly assigned to conditions (i.e., treatment and control) will be screened and pretested and posttested. Potential student participants will be identified through referrals from local agencies that provide services to students with ASD. School sites include high concentrations of socioeconomically and ethnically diverse students and reflect authentic educational settings in two separate geographic regions. 

Project READ-ASD instruction includes the following components: vocabulary (30 words focused on academic language), fluency and prosody with text (focused on sentence-level comprehension), and reading comprehension (focused on main idea summarization). To meet students’ individualized needs, the intervention materials include multiple readability levels. This flexibility is blended within a standard protocol approach that interventionists, including teachers and paraprofessionals, will implement explicitly. All sessions will be audio recorded.

Project Design


The purpose of this project is to investigate an innovative reading comprehension intervention for students identified with ASD in grades 4–8 with adequate verbal ability, adequate word reading, and low reading comprehension, based on standard scores from standardized measures of language and reading. 


This study uses a randomized controlled trial group design. Students meeting the participation criteria will be matched on reading fluency and ASD symptom severity. One student from the match will be randomly assigned to the intervention group, and the other student will be assigned to the comparison group.


Students enrolled in school settings identified with ASD in grades 4–8 who also display adequate word reading skills and low reading comprehension


Recent findings from a 10-year longitudinal study of reading achievement revealed that students with ASD develop reading skills at a much slower pace than children with learning disabilities (Wei, Blackorby, & Schiller, 2011). Students with low-incidence disabilities such as ASD are not performing well in reading—with rates of nonresponse to interventions as high as 50% (Al Otaiba & Fuchs, 2002). Teachers, parents, and educational administrators expressed concerns about the adequacy of reading instruction for children with ASD almost 2 decades ago (Koppenhaver, Pierce, & Yoder, 1995). Although there are still many unanswered questions, there is general agreement that many individuals with ASD have difficulties with reading comprehension (Fleury et al., 2014). These difficulties may also affect postsecondary outcomes, which continue to be problematic—college enrollment for individuals with ASD is among the third-lowest of all 11 disability categories (National Longitudinal Study – 2, 2011). Improved performance in reading comprehension is critical for students with ASD and potentially can increase attendance in college and later meaningful employment.  

Higher levels of reading comprehension are associated with greater gains in other academic areas, higher levels of employment, increased independence, and overall improved quality of life (Lyon, 1998). Furthermore, individuals with ASD may benefit by becoming specialized in a field so that organizations are willing to pay for their unique skill, and it has been suggested that improved academic performance may be just as important as social skills training for individuals with ASD (Grandin, Duffy, & Atwood, 2004). Very little is known about how the mechanisms of reading development for typical readers influence reading development for children with ASD (Chiang & Lin, 2007). As rates of ASD continue to increase dramatically in the United States (1 in 88 children in 2008 and 1 in 68 children in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) so does the need for research in support of developing empirically validated interventions.