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IES Grant

Title: Reading Enhancements for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Project READ): A Reading Comprehension Intervention for Students with Autism
Center: NCSER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Solis, Michael Awardee: University of California, Riverside
Program: Autism Spectrum Disorders      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (8/1/2016–7/31/2019) Award Amount: $1,499,966
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A160299

Purpose: The purpose of this project was to develop a comprehensive reading comprehension and behavior intervention for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in upper elementary and middle school who display adequate word reading skills and low reading comprehension. Prior research has found that many individuals with ASD have difficulties with reading comprehension and providing effective reading comprehension instruction is complicated by the unique and challenging behaviors often present for students with ASD during academic instruction. This intervention was developed to address these challenges and improve the reading and behavioral outcomes for these students.

Project Activities: The research team refined an existing reading intervention, Reading Enhancements for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Project READ), to address specific reading comprehension deficits and behavior problems typical of many students with ASD and improve outcomes in reading and behavior. To begin, the research team iteratively adapted Project READ, integrating and tailoring existing intervention components and examining the intervention's usability and feasibility of implementation. In the final year, the team pilot tested the revised intervention using a randomized controlled trial.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of the research, as reported by the principal investigator, are as follows:

  • Students with ASD generally exhibit a pattern of low reading performance on standardized measures of language, reading fluency, and reading comprehension; however, there is a large degree of variance which reflects the neurodiversity of students with ASD.
  • Students with ASD appreciate having a choice in selecting daily readings, while findings are mixed with using interest-based text.
  • Results from the pilot study indicated that Project READ was associated with significant gains in reading comprehension for students at severity level 1 on the Gilliam Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (GARS-2) and with significant gains in vocabulary scores for students rated at GARS-2 severity levels 1 and 2.
  • Fidelity of implementation for paraprofessionals indicated 90% adherence to the treatment.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research was conducted in elementary and middle schools in Texas, Virginia, and California, including urban, suburban, and rural schools with high concentrations of socioeconomically and ethnically diverse students.

Sample: Teachers and students from nine school districts that provided services to students with ASD in grades 4-8 participated in the iterative development process and pilot study. During the development process, a total of 13 teachers/paraprofessionals and 84 of their students with ASD participated. The pilot study sample included 6 paraprofessionals and 28 of their students with ASD.

Intervention: Project READ is an existing intervention that was modified and further developed for use by teachers and paraprofessionals to meet the specific needs of students with ASD. Professional development included training sessions, coaching, lesson plans, and student materials focused on instruction to increase vocabulary, support sentence-level comprehension,  distinguish main ideas, and develop questions based on the text. Enhancements included the use of graphic organizers for instruction, the incorporation of techniques from Positive Behavior Support (such as a token economy and shaping, prompting, and prompt fading) into instructional routines, and the administration of an interest inventory to determine reading material based on students’ interest and choice.

Research Design and Methods: The research team iteratively developed Project READ using feedback collected from multiple sources, including a series of design experiments, focus groups, observations, and single-case design studies. The promise of the intervention for improving students’ reading comprehension was investigated using a small, randomized controlled trial where the intervention was implemented one-to-one by trained paraprofessionals.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition received business-as-usual reading instruction.

Key Measures: Students were screened using the Gates MacGinitie Reading Test, 4th Edition to assess reading comprehension skills. At baseline, behavioral skills were assessed using the GARS-2 and reading skills were assessed using the Test of Word Reading Efficiency. Student outcome measures included the following: (1) Woodcock Johnson III Passage Comprehension subtest, (2) Test of Sentence Reading Efficiency and Comprehension, (3) Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test, Second Edition, (4) Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, 4th Edition, (5) GARS-2, and (6) curriculum-based measures of reading. Focus groups, observation tools focused on student behaviors and reading instruction, and implementation fidelity checklists were used to guide the development process and assess feasibility and fidelity of implementation.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team conducted descriptive analyses on data collected during the iterative development process. They analyzed data from the single-case design studies using visual analysis, trend analysis, and effect sizes. For the pilot study data, the researchers conducted repeated measures with multilevel models to analyze the effect of Project READ on students’ vocabulary and reading outcomes. 

Project website:

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations:  Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Selected publications

Journal articles

Solís, M., El Zein, F., Black, M., Miller, A., Therrien, W. J., & Invernizzi, M. (2018). Word study intervention for students with ASD: A multiple baseline study of data-based individualization. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 53(3), 287–298.

Cravalho, D. A., Jimenez, Z., Shhub, A., & Solis, M. (2020). How grades 4 to 8 teachers can deliver intensive vocabulary and reading comprehension interventions to students with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Beyond Behavior, 29(1), 31–41.

Solis, M., Reutebuch, C. K., Falcomata, T., Jimenez, Z., & Cravalho, D. (2021). Reading intervention for students with ASD in the middle grades: An alternating treatment study of embedded interests reading and expository text conditions. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 25(1), 45–58.

Solis, M., Reutebuch, C. K., Falcomata, T., Steinle, P. K., Miller, V. L., & Vaughn, S. (2021). Vocabulary and main idea reading intervention using text choice to improve content knowledge and reading comprehension of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Behavior modification, 45(1), 66–98.