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    Research on Effective Practices for Teaching: Reading Comprehension Aligns with ARIS Reading & Writing Readiness Lessons

    Topics: Autism and Language, ARIS Autism Curriculum, Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17), Lesson Plans

    The ARIS curriculum is based on research that points to the importance of practicing narrative retelling and inference abilities to improve reading comprehension for children with autism.


    Many children on with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle with reading comprehension, despite no signs of intellectual disability. Such children with normal cognitive abilities show relative strength in foundational reading skills, however, they often struggle with higher-order reading and language comprehension. 

    To understand why children with autism struggle with reading comprehension, McIntyre et al. (2020) published a paper that pointed to the development of two key skills - narrative skills and inference abilities. These skills are foundational to later reading comprehension abilities. 


    What are narrative retelling and inference abilities? 

    Both narrative and inference skills have an impact on an individual’s reading comprehension.

    • Boy with autism learning to readNarrative skills are the ability to retell events of a story in order, using the structure of the story. Narrative skills rely on the organization and sequencing of story components like character, setting, and plot. They also includes lexical-semantic knowledge i.e., understanding meanings of words and how they relate to each other.  
    • Inference skills are the ability to make accurate inferences about the written text. These skills are essential for proficient reading comprehension. Inference abilities run at two levels: 1) At the local level where they rely on linking information from two sentences together and making sense of the causal, temporal, and spatial relationships between them. 2) At the global level, where a reader must make knowledge-based inferences by utilizing background knowledge from memory about the subject matter.

    New research helps us understand how these two key skills -- narrative and inference skills -- develop over time and relate to lexical-semantic knowledge, ASD symptomatology, and age. It also looks at the association of initial narrative skills and inference skills and its development with reading comprehension outcomes. 

    In the study, 81 children and adolescents with varying levels of support for ASD participated. All participating children met the criteria for having ASD. They were measured on narrative retelling, inference skills, lexical-semantic knowledge and reading comprehension at three different time points in the span of 30 months using standard tools. Statistical analysis was conducted to examine the development of narrative and inference skills and their relationship with other variables like knowledge of vocabulary, age, and ASD symptomatology. 

    The study found that narrative retelling and inference skills are important for successful reading comprehension for individuals with ASD without intellectual disabilities. Lexical-semantic knowledge i.e., understanding the meaning of words, underpins both the skills. The researchers suggested that developing specific reading skills like understanding and sequencing character, plot and setting, and developing vocabulary can support comprehension of more complex material as they get older. 

    The results are encouraging. We can now support young learners to improve reading comprehension by improving narrative retelling and inference abilities. Focused and repeated practice of recalling a story or an event along with an understanding of word meaning will be extremely  helpful for children with ASD. 

    The Language Builder: Academic Readiness Intervention System (ARIS) curriculum developed by Stages Learning Materials aligns with this new research on the most effective strategies for teaching reading comprehension skills. ARIS  is an evidence-based curriculum based on the principles of ABA therapy and adapted for the classroom or for home schooling. 

    Boy with autism playing with cards of words and pictures

    The ARIS Reading & Writing Readiness lesson concepts are divided into 7 sub-categories:

    1. Print Awareness & Letter Knowledge
    2. Writing
    3. Narrative & Comprehension
    4. Sight Reading
    5. Phonological Awareness
    6. Decoding 
    7. Rhyming


    The Narrative & Comprehension set of lessons are targeted on learning these two essential skills: practicing narrative retelling and inference abilities. ARIS Reading & Writing Readiness lessons as a whole cover the range of concepts that students must learn in preparation to read and write. 

    Digging deeper into the ARIS curriculum, lessons devoted to narrative and inference skills are a set of four lessons that include: Ordering Picture Sequences, Tell Me Three Things, Tell Me a Story and Listening & Answering Simple Questions. This series of lessons entails having students improve their narrative retelling ability by first beginning to map a story by organizing pictures in a logical and sequential manner and then without these visual prompts.  A story with 2-5 sentences is narrated and the student gets several opportunities to tell the events of the story in order. Students are also able to grow in their lexical-semantic ability and inference skills by learning to describe salient features of a story, image, or item. Students are given an opportunity to listen to a short story and are asked questions about the vocabulary. They are also asked questions that require them to make connections, predictions, or inferences. These practices increase their capacity to understand the meaning of words in sentences and how they relate to each other. As stated in the research study, providing continued and targeted language interventions such as those that address developing vocabulary can positively impact inference skill development.

    One of the lessons, Lesson 153 - Narrative and Comprehension: Listening & Answering Simple Questions, is available as a free download. As you can see, these lessons build on previous lessons and are scaffolded with varying degree of support embedded into the design. All the resources like the Stages Learning Materials Language Builder Cards required for the activity are provided with the purchase of the full curriculum. 

    Reading is an iterative process where a reader uses the information from the text and knowledge from the memory to make meaning. A reader relies on the memory of specific words, processing of all the information explicitly stated in the text and answering implicit comprehension questions like identifying the main idea, explaining the cause and effect, discussing themes, and making connections to other texts or making generalizations to other contexts. Problems with utilizing narrative structure and with implicit thinking are common among individuals with ASD. Research suggests that a targeted practice of these skills may improve reading comprehension in children with ASD. 

    Father on the couch at home reading a storybook to his preschool age daughter with autism

    Let us know what you think! Was the lesson download helpful for your child?



    McIntyre NS, Grimm RP, Solari EJ, Zajic MC, Mundy PC. Growth in narrative retelling and inference abilities and relations with reading comprehension in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments. January 2020. doi:10.1177/2396941520968028

    Preksha Singh

    Written by Preksha Singh

    Preksha is an interdisciplinary educator blending cognition, neuroscience, and education practices. She has worked across several research projects at the EASEL Lab, Harvard GSE on the Socio-Emotional Learning(SEL), and at CAST on personalizing reading and learning experiences based on emotion sciences. She also worked as a coach, counselor, and teacher in public and private schools in India. She holds a Master of Education degree in Mind, Brain, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA, and a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Mumbai, India.