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

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Massey University
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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.
Autistic children, Preschool literacy, Literacy learning, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Emergent literacy