#SOL17 – Day 2 – 1st Grade Guided Reading with a Student on the Autism Spectrum


Liam’s 1st grade teacher was incredible. It was her 34th year of teaching and the way in which she taught guided reading was outstanding. I was sharing what we learned about Liam and guided reading during 1st grade yesterday with a group of dedicated teachers who were experiencing teaching a student on the autism spectrum for the first time.

This issue (how how to instruct a student on the autism spectrum) has come up in my own work: a student who has stellar (hyperlexic) decoding who also struggles significantly with “beyond” (inferring) and “about” the text responses. This difficulty is due in part to weak central coherence (being a details-first brain that does not always see the “big picture” or theme of a work, as well as a difficulty with theory of mind – being able to take the point of view or perspective of another (in this case a character or author)).

Liam’s wonderfully wise 1st grade teacher initiated a practice that we continued through Liam’s elementary schooling: making sure that he has strong role models at the guided reading table for what the inferring and talking about author’s craft and structure should sound like.

For many students on the autism spectrum, I do not simply recommend placing them in the group that they match up with as a decoder. Sometimes, the thinking processes of these highest readers comes quickly and also internally. The teacher would be “slowing them down” to “think aloud” in response to some of these types of questions.

At the same time, we do not necessarily want the student placed exactly with the group with whom they would match in guided reading level. In fact, the students in these groups are often there due to their struggles with accuracy/decoding. They are often strong in their comprehension skills; guided reading instruction needs to focus primarily on “within” the text/phonics and fluency skills (I’ll need to write about how to target fluency instruction in a student with ASD in a different post – I promise it will be soon).

We found that perfect balance for Liam with a higher group, but one that didn’t have everything perfectly in place. There was excellent modeling from the teacher as well as the students for what inferring would sound like. There was also much opportunity for scaffolded thinking and conversations, as well as I do-We do-You do to introduce new strategies and concepts.

By 2nd grade, Liam was reading and comprehending with the top guided reading group. Thankfully this remained the case throughout his elementary years, even when the text changed to include a secondary plot, more minor characters, or multiple themes. His teachers always saw the benefit of him listening to and learning from those highest readers.

Liam is reading as I write this. He is an avid, successful reader. He still does not love literature and struggles to fully express his inferences – he sometimes gets lost in the details and doesn’t fully bring out that central or main idea. At the same time, he recently scored a 660 on an SAT he took (as an 8th grader, for the math portion actually) although I am sure that high school English class will open up new ways of thinking about text that will continue to help him grow. He will be in an honors class – and I give credit to his 1st grade teacher, for starting him down a path of growth, by seeing a blend of what he could and couldn’t do as vital parts of her instructional vision for him.

10 thoughts on “#SOL17 – Day 2 – 1st Grade Guided Reading with a Student on the Autism Spectrum

  1. A great tribute to his first grade teacher, Aileen, and very well written. It was so clear and easy to follow. The importance of having good models in any group is something I have always advocated for, and it is heartwarming to read about Liam’s success!

  2. What a wise and intuitive teacher he had. The kind of understanding she had can’t be taught. It comes from watching and knowing your students.

  3. Looking for strengths and making connections between readers is critical. It is only the wisdom of a teacher that can do this. I worry about mapping, unpacking and scripting education right now. No program or map can understand how to teach the reader. The how of our teaching is critical and this post brings it to life in such a meaningful way.

  4. I wish I’d read this last year. I muddled through with a child who sounds a lot like Liam. He was so much better at non-fiction, when there were no subtle emotions or motives to infer. I finally convinced him that he needed to spend a little bit of time each day on fiction, even though he was sure he could live his whole life without it. 🙂

  5. You have always been such an advocate for Liam! And he is lucky to have had such a wise and caring teacher to start him off right. We all need role models in our lives!

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