Digital tools can also support vocabulary acquisition.
Some tools will support students’ ability to perceive relationships between words through visual means. Websites such as Visuwords™, Thinkmap’s Visual Thesaurus, and Miriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary Online offer students a visual representation of a word and its potential, multiple meanings.
Likewise, a site like Wordle can analyze the vocabulary used across a text, to highlight words that the author used the most so that the teacher can guide a student through an analysis of why these words were prominent in the text, as well as why the author used them.
Additionally, the class can discuss the importance of synonyms and antonyms and how they are related to the central idea or theme of the text.
Sometimes, students simply do not have experience with a vocabulary word. Many students with ASD have specific interests and preoccupations, and may not have enough background knowledge to activate, in order to determine a word’s meaning.
For example, one second grader with whom I worked had no knowledge of butterflies, other than to know what they looked like. He would have shown a great deal more comprehension of what he was reading had he had the opportunity to view a short video about this topic, instead of relying exclusively on the text to provide him with the topic-specific vocabulary that was used in this non-fiction text.
Many websites can offer students an understanding of a word through a video. Some are National Geographic Kids, Discovery Education, PBS Kids, and TrueFlix. Just like with a student learning English or a general education student who has a limited background on a certain topic, videos that work to establish some background on a topic prove helpful.
Also useful is technology that supports vocabulary learning with reference support. Many online books feature embedded word reference tools that provide students with a possible definition of a word right at one’s fingertip. Students are more likely to “look up a word,” if they can do so at the touch of that word on their device.
Finally, there are a number of excellent picture and chapter books that talk about words or characters having a love of words. These texts can support students’ understanding that words having multiple meanings, given the context in which they are used.
The picture books are Miss Alaineus. A Vocabulary Disaster (2000), by Debra Fraiser, The Boy Who Loved Words (2006), by Roni Schotter, and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (2014), by Jen Bryant, among many other titles.
Two chapter books that highlight vocabulary words are Kwame Alexander’s Crossover (2014) and Booked (2016). Mr. Alexander introduces vocabulary words as a part of the storyline, which creates an authentic and embedded exposure to vocabulary. Reign Rain (2014), by Ann M. Martin, tells the story of a girl who is on the autism spectrum and finds comfort and order in recording homonyms.
Regardless of the strategy or activity, ensure that there is time provided to teach words and expectations for word learning. This will go a long way to supporting a student with ASD’s interaction with and retention of vocabulary.