More effective parent-teacher communication and greater flexibility is needed to improve literacy rates for children on the autism spectrum, an Autism CRC study has found. The study was led by Griffith University Associate Professor, Dr Marleen Westerveld.

Researchers aimed to understand parental views of the importance of literacy learning for their children on the spectrum, and the challenges to literacy learning that parent have encountered during and following their child’s transition to school.

Dr Westerveld from the School of Allied Health Sciences said while literacy learning begins from birth for all children including those on the spectrum, many children on the spectrum struggle with learning to read and write.

In the study, 32 parents of children on the spectrum participated in semi-structured interviews following their child’s first 6-12 months of formal schooling.

Parents were found to hold invaluable knowledge about their child’s strengths and weaknesses and used this information to implement targeted and individualised literacy activities at home.

“Parents explained to us the importance of ‘using visuals’ and ‘telling the child what you want him to do in little steps’.

“However, the child’s school did not often utilise this knowledge, and parents reported challenges with home-school collaboration and limited teacher understanding of the specific literacy needs of children on the autism spectrum,’’ Dr Westerveld said.

“One parent told us “It’s not about inclusion, it’s about conformity…they are expected as little square pegs to fit into round holes, sandpapering the edges to try and fit them into something that is not designed for them”.”

This study is part of a program of research into early literacy development in children on the autism spectrum supported by the Autism CRC. 

Autism CRC is the world’s first national cooperative research centre focused on autism. Autism CRC takes a whole-of-life approach to autism focusing on early years, school years and adulthood.