Emergent literacy practices for preschool children with autism spectrum disorders : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Speech [and] Language Therapy at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Literacy is essential to success in education and employment, and in the modern world plays
an important role in our daily communication and social participation. The value of literacy is
increasingly being recognised and prioritised by government and the business sector in New
Zealand. For children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), literacy learning presents a
unique set of challenges. Research suggests that children with ASD are at high risk of poor
literacy outcomes, which has implications for their educational success, employment
outcomes and social relationships. Given the limited research into the early years of literacy
development for children with ASD, this study aimed to explore how children with ASD are
engaging with emergent literacy, the strategies that teachers are using to facilitate emergent
literacy and the perceived challenges teachers face in supporting emergent literacy
development for this group of children.
A mixed methods research design was adopted using an online survey and face-to-face
interviews with preschool teachers who had recent experience teaching a child with ASD.
Five key findings emerged: (1) variability in teachers’ understanding of emergent literacy with
embedded literacy learning opportunities being more prevalent than explicit instruction; (2)
wide variability in levels of student engagement with emergent literacy opportunities and
activities (3) wide range of strategies employed by teachers to support children's emergent
literacy learning with high levels of personalisation to children's individual strengths and
interests; (4) children's interest level and attention were perceived as the biggest challenge
to their literacy development and (5) low levels of professional learning and development
(PL&D) in emergent literacy and ASD despite high levels of interest in PL&D in these areas.
Participants also identified the need for greater collaboration between speech language
therapists and teachers to support the communication skills and emergent literacy
development of children with ASD. This study highlights the need for greater professional
support for teachers to overcome the challenges identified. This support is essential in order
to maximise the literacy learning for children with ASD.