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"Reading comprehension" with my dyslexic, adhd, autistic kiddo....


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Ds12 scores much worse on these sorts of tests than I would expect, based on his reading level (went through all 10 Barton levels and now reads at a 12th grade level, supposedly) and his IQ. When we talk about questions he missed and why a different answer would make more sense, he looks at me, says ok, he understands, and moves on. But he continues to get ones I'd peg as "simple" wrong, and his scores on things like readtheory quizzes consistently put him at a 6th-ish grade level. I know multiple choice questions are just not ideal for autistic and dyslexic kiddos, but is there anything structured I can do or he can study to help him improve in this area? We test very infrequently, but I'd like to figure out just what is actually breaking down. 

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To some extent, there are areas of comprehension and it can depend on what kind of question is a problem.

First, if the questions are ones that are tricky or have misleading answer choices — I don’t think I would care very much.  
 

Then, we get into some of the kinds of things that can be a problem with autism.

 

This can be things like:  inferences.  finding the main idea.  
 

That is all I can think of off the top of my head.

Then if you know you want to target inferences — there are strategies for that.

If you know you want to work on finding the main idea, there are strategies for that.

So if it’s not something about the way the rest is written, you can look for things like that.  
 

If it is something like that — I think test-taking skills would help.  There are times it is worth working on test-taking skills.  

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892026/
 

This article talks about some common problems.

 

https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/recognizing-different-types-of-readers-with-asd

 

This article has a list also.

 

So there are things like:  multiple-meaning words, and figurative language.

The use of sarcasm.

Social language.

All of these are things that can be targeted with autism materials.

But it really can depend on what kinds of questions are being missed, and if it seems like it is a real comprehension issue or just an “artifact of testing.”  


It also can make a big difference if the writing passage is fiction or non-fiction.  

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It might not be something where it seems like mistakes follow any particular pattern.  In that case — eh, I don’t know.  It’s hard to know sometimes, and sometimes kids just mistakes.  

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As far as materials to possibly use — Mindwings Concepts is one to look at!  
 

Maybe Social Thinking.

 

For some things like multiple-meaning words or figurative language, there are speech therapy options (and these might be on Pinterest).  
 

For seeing what pronouns refer to — there is a “Hyperlexia Kit.”  I tend to doubt that would be helpful for someone reading at a 6th grade level, but I don’t know.  
 

It just depends, and reading comprehension is one of those things where there are so many different parts to work on.  

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To some extent there is also a word level, a sentence level, a paragraph level, etc.  There is comprehension at those levels.  Then there is the big picture that is coming from “internal frameworks” where kids do things like track an expected question and expected answers, that they just know are supposed to be there.
 

Mindwings Concepts talks about this.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Lecka said:

 

For seeing what pronouns refer to — there is a “Hyperlexia Kit.”  I tend to doubt that would be helpful for someone reading at a 6th grade level, but I don’t know.  

I will look into all of these resources. Thank you! I may have been unclear earlier:  when his reading ability was last tested (over a year ago, right after he finished Barton) he was reading at a 12th grade level. It’s just that when he takes multiple choice reading comprehension quizzes, they put him at a 6th grade level.

2 hours ago, Rosie_0801 said:

Have you done sentence diagramming? 

No haven’t tried that yet!

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Posted (edited)

https://dyslexiaida.org/scarboroughs-reading-rope-a-groundbreaking-infographic/  

1 hour ago, 4KookieKids said:

It’s just that when he takes multiple choice reading comprehension quizzes, they put him at a 6th grade level.

You're lucky it's that high. With multiple choice he's able to use his gifted strengths to guess, ie. giving answers higher than what he could do if you flat asked him reading comprehension questions with a curriculum and he had to answer.

So the above is the reading rope, and reality is you look at the strands and figure out what is weak and holding him back. The social thinking, perspective taking, inferencing is always going to be weak in autism. That's a given. But the question is whether there's more. For my ds, the syntactical knowledge is weak, and it's weak in spite of seeming good overall language. He still does not completely pass the SPELT (structured photographic expressive language test).

So if you look at my ds' recent IEP update, his main SLP (who works at a really meta level) just said the reading issues were because of social thinking, perspective taking, inferencing, etc. But when you dig in on the data, the syntax and actual comprehension is at issue too. And because his peers are pulling ahead, general knowledge is an issue.

In other words, I don't know your answer. I just keep working mine, sigh. Narrative language, syntax, etc. 

https://www.amazon.com/Conversations-Conjunctions-Assessment-Activities-Language/dp/1416404694/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=conversations+with+conjunctions&qid=1625110022&sr=8-3  I'm using this with him right now, but I don't know where you can find a sanely priced copy as it's oop. My ds was hyperlexic and dyslexic at the same time at one point. The autism really complicates things. You can read on hyperlexia, word calling, etc. (Cartwright's book, etc.). For my ds the biggest strand is always the one that is hardest to treat, that language piece.

We're also doing some activities now where I take the language from interoception (adjectives of feelings) and we talk about the body signals then convert the adjectives to *adverbs*. Think about it. Adverbs are one of the latter things to acquire in language and they're very complex, often very abstract. Like we were talking about what it means to feel cold vs. coldly where coldly is not actually literally COLD-ly, haha. And yet many things are literal (quiet/quietly, angry/angrily, etc.). I have this theory I'm working on that the lack of body awareness actually holds back the language development. It just makes sense when you think about it. I was looking at a sample for Story Champs (shh, you didn't read that) and it was replete with adverbs, just replete. And they're like oh this is great we'll just use one model to hit so many goals! And I'm like no, he won't even get out of the starting box comprehending it. 

And that's kind of your big clue phone, when you realize that it doesn't matter whether he's reading it or you read it to him, that either way the language piece isn't quite there. That's your automatic clue phone that language is part of the problem. It can be hard to prove without specialized testing. You'd be looking for an SLP who specializes in autism and expressive language. It would be a one in a whole big city kind of person, a gem.

Edited by PeterPan
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I can tell you that working on auditory processing (ie. the auditory processing of language) has been epiphanal in how much processes language. https://www.therapro.com/Differential-Processing-Training-Program-Acoustic-Tasks.html  If you have any sense that the tasks in this 3 book series would be hard, then it's worth doing. We acquire language ideally parts to whole, but for those who reverse and learn language whole to parts there end up these funky holes that we have to go back and intervene on to fill in. Nuts, at this point I don't try to fill in. It's more like start all over at baby level bits and build up. 

But that's why it's happening, because the language learning got flipped. That's why the holes are funky, because you had this gifted brain doing the Monk thing and saying it could glue back together bits and it doesn't work.

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Posted (edited)

For my ds, it's always language work that improves the reading. There's the whole rope, but for him it's language. There are some reading curricula that try to hit EVERYTHING and if you google for a tier of intervention you can find them. For us, direct explicit work on language gets us so far that that's always what I go back to. The SLP does some meta level stuff (read an article together, talk about it). I think it increases his confidence. 

Is he reading stuff that is high interest? Like when his people work with him on reading, they bring articles on his areas of interest. There's no messing around or great ambition of it needing to be fiction and life altering. If he's into xyz (gaming, whatever), then that's what the articles are on. And right now, while he will also defer, he's sort of strangely functional. Like tonight he was willing to read the instructions for Star Trek Catan to figure out things and even caught a rule I hadn't! So that to me is very *functional* and what I like to see. I'm much more concerned about that reading, life level reading (instructions, things to accomplish hs goals) than whether he's eye reading a Beverly Cleary book. I have audiobooks for that.

I really like the Infographics workbooks from (I forget, Carson Dellosa or ??). They're another example of very practical nonfiction reading. I sometimes do paired reading workbooks with him where you read a fiction and nonfiction and answer questions. We read aloud the National Geographic Readers, which again typically have fiction and nonfiction, and they're engaging enough he wants to discuss. So you can see his comprehension at that point. But that's dropping the level quite a bit to make sure he's actually able to comprehend well enough to discuss. Like down to say a 3rd/4th gr level.

Edited by PeterPan
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Posted (edited)

I think my son has around a 2nd/3rd grade comprehension level.  He has interests that are for an older age, and he is older.  But he takes a 2nd/3rd grade comprehension level to those older-aimed things that he does like.

Anyway — just to say, I am aware of some things that are aimed older, but I am not super familiar.

I would tend to say — Mindwings Concepts and Social Thinking both do go with kids who are doing grade-level academics into higher grades.  They also have things for younger ages/levels which is more how I am familiar with them.

There is a lot of “fit” that goes into things, some things do just fit some kids.  
 

Social Thinking tends not to be a particularly good fit here, but I do like it a lot.  

Edited by Lecka
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OP — I don’t know if you have ever read through Common Core Language Arts by grade level, or Fountas and Pinnell.  They have a lot of “here’s the kinds of questions to ask kids” kind of stuff.  
 

The questions are pretty hard!  

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To some extent — I used to read Harry Potter to two of my kids, 3 years apart.  The younger one could follow the story.  The older one was getting more of the “drama” to it all.  
 

And then even if you are getting the drama, whether you talk about it with a sentence or with a paragraph linking several ideas together, is going to reflect the comprehension level in the sense of “let’s assign a grade level to comprehension.”

 

Anyway — it can depend on the test, though.  
 

A lot of tests are not going to be as accurate for kids with autism, because they may have strengths in things and weaknesses in other things, that aren’t typical, and so the tests just do not fit in general.  It can happen.

 

So there are other ways to look at comprehension like what you see in school work or in discussion, etc. 

 

It is hard to know.  

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I'm curious about a couple of things.

What test determined he was reading at a 12th grade level? Because different tests evaluate different aspects of reading.

What level books would he choose to read on his own? This can suggest his functional comprehension level, because most people won't gravitate toward texts that are hard, when they are reading for pleasure.

If you read a 12th grade level book out loud with him, can he answer your questions about the text, showing that he understands what is going on? What level text can you read together and discuss, with him showing that he is grasping everything, and what level ends up frustrating him or leaves him unable to answer your questions about the text.

So, I would ask questions to see whether he is grasping inference. Does he know why characters say certain things or take certain actions? Does he understand when the text uses techniques such as flash forward or alternating points of view? Does he understand figures of speech? Can he state a theme of the story (this requires being able to pull various aspects of the story together to create meaning)? These are areas that can be problematic for kids with autism.

If the test that shows 12th grade reading level was testing his ability to read things out loud and being able to use his new phonological skills, someone could read something well and not understand it. This can happen with dyslexia, where the brain is working hard on deciphering the words well and falls behind on simultaneously being able to work hard on discerning the meaning of the sentence or paragraph or passage.

So I think it's great that he can read at the 12th grade level by some measurement. But I would consider his functional reading level to be whatever level that he can comprehend the material, and you may need to work with him to figure out whether that 6th grade level is where he is really functioning. I agree that sometimes kids don't do well with certain kinds of testing, and their real functioning can be higher than the results. I think the real key is knowing what real life books (or articles or texts) he is able to do well with, and what level he struggles with, and then try to pinpoint where the sticking points may be.

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One of the things I didn't mention above is background knowledge. Someone else may have mentioned it. For a 12 year old, having the background knowledge -- which is things gleaned from life experience and previous learning that one needs to understand THIS text, because this text does not really explain those things but assumes knowledge -- of a sixth grader..... well, that is right on target. Which is actually good, because many with autism lack background knowledge, because they have not picked up as many things from the world around them or understood as many personal interactions as same age peers. Oh, and ADHD people may miss things that contribute to background knowledge, too, due to inattention.

Background knowledge is a big deal with reading comprehension.

The test that gave the 12th grade ability score may not have challenged him in areas of background knowledge or inference or figures of speech, or character interaction, etc., if it was mainly measuring whether he could read the text phonologically now after dyslexia remediation.

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I think it's notable that his reading comprehension score matches closely to his age. While I would still want to target the areas that need help, if I were you, I think a 12 year old who has a 6th grade reading comprehension but also has ASD and ADHD and dyslexia is showing a pretty good level of learning so far, considering the obstacles that have made learning harder for him.

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4 hours ago, Storygirl said:

Background knowledge is a big deal with reading comprehension.

It's what lets a gifted kid guess well on multiple choice. He has enough knowledge to piece together and get to reasonable answers. So even that gr 6 is possibly higher than he's actually functioning. 

 

4 hours ago, Storygirl said:

I think the real key is knowing what real life books (or articles or texts) he is able to do well with, and what level he struggles with, and then try to pinpoint where the sticking points may be.

Exactly. And what happens with my ds is that higher ability (like you see with the multiple choice) shows up when he's reading in an area of interest. Drop the interest level, raise the social thinking demands, the whole thing starts to go downhill fast.

 

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On 6/30/2021 at 2:02 PM, 4KookieKids said:

Ds12 scores much worse on these sorts of tests than I would expect, based on his reading level (went through all 10 Barton levels and now reads at a 12th grade level, supposedly) and his IQ. When we talk about questions he missed and why a different answer would make more sense, he looks at me, says ok, he understands, and moves on. But he continues to get ones I'd peg as "simple" wrong, and his scores on things like readtheory quizzes consistently put him at a 6th-ish grade level. I know multiple choice questions are just not ideal for autistic and dyslexic kiddos, but is there anything structured I can do or he can study to help him improve in this area? We test very infrequently, but I'd like to figure out just what is actually breaking down. 

This was my older son (2e ASD) a few years ago. We eventually found a small language hole (generally speaking, narrative language), and fixing it has been like rocket fuel. Mindwings was KEY for us. 

On 6/30/2021 at 10:18 PM, 4KookieKids said:

I will look into all of these resources. Thank you! I may have been unclear earlier:  when his reading ability was last tested (over a year ago, right after he finished Barton) he was reading at a 12th grade level. It’s just that when he takes multiple choice reading comprehension quizzes, they put him at a 6th grade level.

My son hit a high school reading level in 3rd grade and completely stalled out until we fixed the problem. In some areas, that was an overestimate of what he could do. In some areas, it was an underestimate--he just couldn't put the whole bag of tricks together until someone used Mindwing stuff with him, and he was able to get the big picture. Specific work on things like inferences when he struggled to make them did NOT help. He needed the big picture. Some kids need specific work, some need big picture work, and some need both. 

On 7/1/2021 at 1:47 PM, Storygirl said:

I think it's notable that his reading comprehension score matches closely to his age. While I would still want to target the areas that need help, if I were you, I think a 12 year old who has a 6th grade reading comprehension but also has ASD and ADHD and dyslexia is showing a pretty good level of learning so far, considering the obstacles that have made learning harder for him.

I think this can be possible, but it's also possible that he would be functioning even higher if a language issue were resolved. ASD is unpredictable like that.

I recommend language testing with someone who will dig, not be fooled easily, and will use open-ended language tests (TNL, TOPS adolescent, etc.).

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Posted (edited)

Thought of @4KookieKids when I came across this. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0770/1861/files/handouts_for_blog.pdf?v=1611261352 Past president of ASHLA talking about causes of reading comprehension problems in adolescents with autism. 

On p32 she shows how to integrate vocabulary instruction (which she says to do with synonyms/thesaurus vs. dictionary) with story grammar and prediction to improve comprehension. So the beginning of the powerpoint is pretty general, but it gets better as you progress.

Fwiw, the heteronym and contrastive stress stuff she discusses is covered extensively in APD materials like https://www.therapro.com/Differential-Processing-Training-Program-Acoustic-Tasks.html  (3 part series)

Edited by PeterPan
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On 7/6/2021 at 11:26 AM, PeterPan said:

Thought of @4KookieKids when I came across this. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0770/1861/files/handouts_for_blog.pdf?v=1611261352 Past president of ASHLA talking about causes of reading comprehension problems in adolescents with autism. 

On p32 she shows how to integrate vocabulary instruction (which she says to do with synonyms/thesaurus vs. dictionary) with story grammar and prediction to improve comprehension. So the beginning of the powerpoint is pretty general, but it gets better as you progress.

Fwiw, the heteronym and contrastive stress stuff she discusses is covered extensively in APD materials like https://www.therapro.com/Differential-Processing-Training-Program-Acoustic-Tasks.html  (3 part series)

Thank you so much!

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