Teaching Reading and Writing to a Learner with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Complex Communication Needs

Janice Light & David McNaughton (Penn State University)


Recently, Janice received this email from Anna, a former student who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Hi Miss Janice .

It’s Anna. I miss you. Im a good reader. Thank you for making me happy with with reading. Where are your Janice books? I loved reading them. Im in third grade. I watch my old Janice movies. Do you watch Janice movies? Where are you working?



As you can see from this email, Anna has learned many important literacy skills, and she enjoys using her reading and writing skills for a wide variety of activities. This website tells the story of how we provided evidence-based literacy instruction to Anna from an early age. In fact, we started literacy instruction with Anna when she was 3 years old:

  • to enhance her language and communication development,
  • to increase her participation in her educational program,
  • to prepare her for elementary school, and
  • to introduce her to a lifetime of reading enjoyment!

AnnaWe first met Anna when she was 3 years 10 months old. She only had a few spoken words and she didn’t yet know how to read or type. She used a few signs and pictures (PECS, Picture Exchange Communication System) to make basic requests. She was very frustrated because she was so limited in her communication.

With the support of a literacy program that followed evidence-based practices, and incorporated her interests, Anna learned to read and write for a wide variety of purposes. In fact she entered elementary school able to read and type simple stories. As she learned literacy skills, she also increased her language and communication skills. And she demonstrated improvements in her speech production as well.

This website is designed to help you provide effective evidence-based literacy instruction to other children, like Anna, who have difficulty with speech because of autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities.

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