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5 Tips for Improving Writing Difficulties in Autism

May 10, 2024

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects various skills, from fine motor and language to social interaction and focus. As such, writing tasks can be particularly challenging for students with ASD. Yet, with the appropriate support and planning, students can overcome writing difficulties in autism.

To help ASD students become confident writers, teachers must ensure that they use the most effective strategies available to help motivate and support students with autism throughout all the stages of the writing process. Here are some tips that will help.

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1. Plan and prepare

Providing plenty of time to brainstorm ideas and plan for writing is essential for students with autism.

It can be especially effective for students to plan their ideas visually, such as through pictures.

Another useful strategy is to use word banks to help prompt ideas and use a traditional outline or story template to support the student’s sequencing or structure.

Rather than brainstorming ideas with full sentences, teachers should encourage students to use single words instead to outline their ideas.

2. Support the writing process through prompts

Teachers should have a range of scaffolds in place to support students with their writing, such as using word banks to stimulate writing, as well as providing concrete writing examples for students to refer to.

Providing sentence starters can also help students to overcome potential writer’s block.

Raymond Fields, an educator from two renowned institutions, suggests utilizing images as stimuli. You can encourage students to discuss the visuals to kickstart their writing process.

Providing autistic students with the chance to verbally practice their sentences aids in structuring and formulating their written work. Employing graphic organizers can also be beneficial.

Creating opportunities for students to write content about their Special Interest Areas (SIAs) has also been found to help them be more motivated and engaged when writing. As a result, their vocabulary, word order, and syntax are often much improved.

3. Focus on the drafting process

The very act of writing can be extremely physically challenging for students with autism, resulting in shorter pieces of writing and often illegible handwriting.

Teachers can support pupils in overcoming these physical challenges by using technology. That way, students can focus on the content of their writing rather than the physical challenges of writing itself.

A little girl using a tablet to write and study https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/effective-autistic-writing-process/

There are a range of technologies available to support students with autism, such as:

  • tape recording,
  • a dictaphone and a scribe,
  • keyboarding,
  • speech recognition software,
  • various online writing tools.

Encouraging student engagement and motivation in writing is crucial. Breaking the task into small, achievable goals proves beneficial, as does incorporating movement breaks to aid focus.

Sheila Jude, an educator experienced in this approach, emphasizes the significance of offering plenty of positive reinforcement when students successfully achieve their goals.

4. Help them through the editing process

To help motivate and encourage students to edit and rewrite their work, each writing task should be given a clear purpose and this should be shared with the students.

Reducing the length of the writing task so that students can complete the work that can be shared is particularly important.

Providing students with clear checklists can be extremely helpful when editing, as is the act of editing with a partner. Make sure that the completed work is then shared publicly.

For example, it can be hung on display in the classroom, included in a class book, published on the website, or even submitted for publication.

5. Pay attention to students who need extra help

For some students at different points of the autism spectrum, writing tasks can be even more stressful and may lead to more aggressive and socially unacceptable forms of behavior.

Adapt writing activities so that they are more accessible and in line with each individual pupil’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Aim to use communication boards, where students can point to the relevant visuals to communicate their thoughts. Give them writing tasks based on real-world skills and activities, such as matching food items to labels, creating shopping lists, or listing ingredients needed for a meal.


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Overcoming autism and writing difficulties

Understanding the diverse challenges individuals on the autism spectrum may encounter in writing tasks is crucial for creating supportive environments.

By implementing strategies tailored to individual needs and fostering a culture of patience, encouragement, and understanding, we can empower all students to develop their writing skills confidently and succeed.

This article was featured in Issue 106 – Maintaining a Healthy Balance With ASD

FAQs

Q: How do you teach autistic children to write?

A: Teaching an autistic child to write involves breaking down tasks into small steps and using visual aids like pictures or charts to help them understand. Providing plenty of encouragement and patience is important to help them feel confident and motivated in their writing journey.

Q: How does autism affect writing?

A: Autism can make writing harder for some people because they might struggle with organizing their thoughts or using language effectively. They might also find it stressful, leading to behaviors like frustration or avoidance.

Q: At what age should a child start writing?

A: Children typically begin to develop basic writing skills around the age of 3 or 4, starting with simple scribbles and shapes. By age 5 or 6, many children can start forming letters and words with increasing proficiency.

References:

Accardo, A.L., Finnegan, E.G., Kuder, S.J. et al. Writing Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Research Synthesis. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 1988–2006 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-03955-9 

Gillespie-Lynch, K., Hotez, E., Zajic, M., Riccio, A., DeNigris, D., Kofner, B., Bublitz, D., Gaggi, N., & Luca, K. (2020). Comparing the writing skills of autistic and nonautistic university students: A collaboration with autistic university students. Autism, 24(7), 1898-1912. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361320929453 

Leniv, Z., Dzhus, O., Ilina, N., Prokofieva, O., Matveievа N., & Hlushchenko, I. (2022). Neuropsychological Bases of Correctional and Preventive Preparation of Children with Autism to Master Writing. BRAIN. Broad Research in Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience, 13(1Sup1), 37-50. https://doi.org/10.18662/brain/13.1Sup1/301 

Matthew Carl Zajic, Emily Jane Solari, Nancy Susan McIntyre, Lindsay Lerro, Peter Clive Mundy, Task engagement during narrative writing in school-age children with autism spectrum disorder compared to peers with and without attentional difficulties, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 76, 2020, 101590, ISSN 1750-9467, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2020.101590

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