Behavior & Learning in School/Difficulties with reading


Hi Lynn,
My son is in year 1 age 6 1/2 years. He is in a special needs school due to having autism and learning difficulties although he is very verbal I am concerned that he is making limited progress in regards to reading. He only knows about 5 phonics and can only recognise his name. He has phonics practice at school and brings a book home with 4 phonics to learn and they don't move him on until he has learnt them. He also brings home a reading book which he will quickly learn rote but if you remove the pictures he cannot tell you what it says. If we point to any individual words he cannot tell you either, he just repeats the sentence. He has been given some reading books with 1 phonic in it all the way through and will say the letter but if we then write the phonic on a piece of paper he cannot tell us what it is. He also has difficulties with his writing skills.
My question is how can we best support his needs at home as he has limited attention span and is often reluctant to sit and do activities. Also how far behind is he in comparison to typically developing children of his age as his school are saying he is doing well? Many thanks in advance

Hello Sharon,
Your son seems to be at the beginning reading stage.  It is very common for children to memorize instead of focusing on the written page.  Whenever he is using a book of any kind, have him POINT to the words that he is reading.  This will keep him focused on the written page.  If there are pictures on the page, he should be using the pictures to help him.  I am not sure if your son is up to reading actual words yet but he really should be.  Reading does not only involve phonics.  He should be given some "sight words" to learn as well.  However, when a child has autism, the best way to get him reading is to make the learning process fun....more like a game.  For phonics, begin with 3 letters....maybe  B... T.....and S.  Print each of these letters(in blue or black marker...the same color)  on separate index cards.  Lay them down on the table and ask your son to hold up the letter B.  If he is incorrect, show him and repeat.  Do the same with the other letters.  When he masters that, play concentration with the three letters.  Make another set of the same letters  B...T....and S.  Turn the 6 cards over and play a matching game with him.  He picks a card and turns it over and says the letter.  Then he picks another card, turns it over and says the letter.  If he gets both the same, he keeps the 2 cards and it is your turn.  (I usually purposely do not make matches so that the child wins)  They LOVE to win!  Once he masters those 3 letters, you can tell him that every letter has it's own SOUND.  Tell him that B says "Buh" Boy, etc.  Then have him do the letter games using the SOUNDS of the letters.  From there, you can begin teaching him to blend sounds by adding the letter A.  Write the letter in RED and add it to the other 3 letters that you have.  Then you can have him hold up the letter that says "Buh" to it put the letter that says "A" and next to that put the letter that says "T".  He made a word!!!  BAT.  
Having the child manipulate the sounds in this way will help him to learn to read.  You also need to start him on some sight words.  Sight words are words that you can not sound out....such as "is" "the" "to".  You can find a list of these sight words at  You are looking for the "Dolch word list".  Start small.  Maybe put 3 words on paper, punch a hole and put a string through the hole to make a necklace.  These can be called, "necklace words."....yes, even boys like that.  Practice every day.  Practice the letters and sounds every day.  Review even as you add other letters and sounds.  NEVER assume that he knows them.  You can also start working with color words.  Draw a picture and write the word "RED" in the middle of your picture.  Give him 2 crayons and see if he can look at the letters you wrote and find the same letters on the crayon.  Then have him color the picture that color.  There are quite a few websites that you can go to that will help you with printable worksheets and ideas. is good. is good too.  I hope I have given you a few ideas.  Talk to the teachers who are responsible for educating your son.  Make an appointment and discuss your concerns with them.  I have not evaluated your son so I can only throw out ideas to you. I CAN tell you that reading to your son is very important.  Pick some books that are short and fun!  He is not ready to listen to chapter books, especially if his attention span is poor.  Try books such as, "No David", by David Shannon...or "Click Clack Moo- Cows that Type", by Doreen Cronin.  
Good luck and I wish your son the very best!
Lynn McDermott
Reading Specialist

Behavior & Learning in School

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Lynn McDermott


I am a retired reading specialist. I taught reading to children in grades 1-4 for 32 years. I can answer any questions from parents or educators about problems children may be having learning to read. I can also offer some ideas to educators, parents and tutors for teaching children how to become successful readers.


I worked with small groups of children in a public elementary school setting. I have also worked with and trained teachers in the field of reading. I have also done one-to-one tutoring in the field of reading.

I have written for a few teacher magazines including "The Mailbox" and "The Bookbag."

My undergraduate degree is in English and my Master's degree is in Reading with Emphasis on Learning Disabilities.

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