I had the opportunity to be called in to assess two students who are thought to or have an autism spectrum diagnosis. This happens from time to time, due to the fact that we use a reading assessment that works to understanding more than just the literal level of comprehension.
These students will often get “stuck” during testing after their accuracy can’t overcome missing comprehension questions. My questions are always two-fold: are the student’s executive functioning “disability” (organization) and weak central coherence (details, not main ideas) getting in the way of his/her expressing what he/she knows? Or is the way the test is written getting in the way of allowing the students to “show what they know.” Either way, I have to dig deeper to understand this student more clearly.
I don’t break protocol, just for the sake of breaking it. In these instances however, when I ask, what is this character like, and a student replies, he’s a boy, I can see that I have to do a better job of sharing what I am looking to have answered.
Sometimes, I am just explicit. I might say, These questions are going to ask you to inference. I brought an umbrella to school today. What’s the weather like? When the student says, “It’s raining,” I share that they just inferenced: put your background knowledge together with clues from the text.
Other times, I simply offer a model for what I’m asking the student to do. I explain, The story has a lot of descriptive words. If I were to describe this room, I would say that it’s in the shape of a square, that it’s white, and that it’s very bright. What did the author do to describe (the character, the event, the animal) to you?
In one instance, I offered a student a “when,… then” scenario and provided a countdown to how many more questions I was going to ask. It helped him clearly know when this experience with me was going to end.
During a graduate reading class during which I was to learn to use DIBLES, I used my son (of course), to practice on. When I asked him to tell me about the story, he literally thought I wanted him to review every detail he had just read. Instead of doing that, he replied, I don’t know. When I revised my question to, share three things you learned about in the story, he gave me five – in order. If that wasn’t “meeting the criteria,” I’m not sure what was.
The point is, sometimes in education, we don’t always “see” things as clearly from a specific point of view, such as that from the child with ASD. We worry about giving the answers away, when they don’t understand the question we are asking. I’m giving the teachers with whom I work to find out the root cause.