Writing can be very challenging for students with Autism. "Poor communication between key areas of the brain has a dramatic impact on a student’s ability to write. In order to write effectively, a person must activate the areas of the brain that govern motor control and planning, language skills, sensory feedback, problem solving, imitation skills, memory, organization, and proprioception" (Autism Digest, 2014) These students struggle with deficits that affect their ability to generate ideas, organize thoughts, and structure sentences correctly. I used to find teaching writing to be one of the most challenging parts of my day. However, through much trial and error over the course of the last few years, I have found some strategies that have really worked to help these students improve their writing skills.
- Before students can learn to write effectively there are some prerequisite skills I recommend they have mastered. They should be able to effectively answer "Who", "What", "When", "Where", "Why" and "How" questions.
- Students should have experience with and mastered using pronouns
- Students should also be able to successfully build and structure a sentence.
Once your students have mastered these prerequisite skills, you can start tackling some writing! I want my kids to have experiences with all different types of writing (expository, narrative, imaginative, ect.) so here are some of the tools I use!
Journal writing can be a great tool used for a variety of different reasons. First and foremost it gives students (especially those struggling with language/social skills) an outlet.Daily writing in a more relaxed format provides a way for a child to communicate and explore different thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening way. Students with Autism have language deficits that may impede their ability to generate original ideas. However, with the write support and prompt-fading system, these students can become successful narrative writers! Sentence Strips are a great tool to use for journal writing. Take a look at mine
I created these sentence strips as a prompt for my students to use while journal writing. You can start as simple as having a student pick ONE prompt from the pink "at school" jar, fill in the blank, then write the complete sentence. As the students get more and more comfortable you can add more sentences to the paragraph. To add "rigor" to the activity have the students choose several random statements about what they did at school, and then conclude with a statement about what they will be doing after school. Currently I have my students picking three random "at school" statements and 1 "after school" statement to create a short journal paragraph!
You can download my sentence strips for free by clicking this link!
Expository writing is a type of writing that is used to explain, describe, give information, or inform. I wanted the expository writing to be functional as well as engaging so heres what I did! I always ask parents in the beginning of the year to send in pictures when students participate in activities they like or go to events they enjoy! I laminated the pictures first and then created a PDF template (you can download below) that has the students answer who/what/where/when/ and why questions about the pictures. We use the same template and repetition to maintain consistency and establish a pattern of writing. This template worked WONDERS for my kids. Eventually the questions are faded out and the students are writing 4-5 sentence paragraphs about relevant information (who, what, where, when, ext. questions).
I would also recommend using DIY sentence structure cards (index cards/post its pictured below) with this activity for students who struggle with sentence building.
The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader's mind. Descriptive writing can be hard for individuals with disabilities, especially Autism, because of language barriers that affect a students ability to organize complex thoughts. I have found the best way to teach students about descriptive words and how to use them is through mystery boxes! They are an engaging and meaningful tool and so easy to make. I wrapped a shoebox in construction paper and decorated it with stuff lying around the classroom/my house. I punched a whole in the top and masked it with white paper so students couldn't see inside. I then created a worksheet that goes along with the activity that you can download on my scribe account. Check it out below!
The Autism Helper also has some really great ideas and strategies for writing centers! I'd LOVE to hear what you guys do to improve writing in your classroom! Please comment below!