The Pitfalls of Reading Out Loud

When Rosemary Crossley was here she spent several hours working with my daughter.  One of the many discoveries we made was that Emma can and does read very quickly, but if asked to read out loud, she will stumble and get so caught up in pronunciation I question whether she is able to comprehend what she’s reading at all.  I know I have trouble following the story.  Yet most schools ask children to read out loud, both as a way to assess what they are capable of, and also to make sure they are at the correct reading level.  If a child reads a first grade reader out loud with great difficulty, the impulse is to make the reading material simpler.  Except that if this is done with my daughter she will be stuck reading kindergarten and beginning level reading books for the foreseeable future.

I know Emma is able to read much more complicated texts than beginning readers.  I know this because I have seen her read with Rosemary and me very quickly.  I have witnessed her ability to read, not only faster than I can, but her ability to accurately answer multiple choice questions related to the text with ease when  given some resistance.  In other words, if she is asked to wait a beat, instead of being allowed to immediately point to an answer, her accuracy goes way up.  Without the pause she is just as likely to randomly pick any answer.  From Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, “The resistance I provided slowed her down very substantially, and the quality of her output increased as her speed fell.  I gave Jan a picture of a cow and asked her to write me a sentence about it.  Instead she typed, THIS TYPING IS HARD.  I HAVE TO THINK.  That was, of course, the aim of the exercise.

This idea of providing resistance is a tricky one to explain to people.  I have had some people say they just cannot understand why this would be necessary.  The only way I know of to better explain, is by comparing it to the way many, who are like my daughter, will perseverate on a word, or will rely on favorite scripts.  It is not that these scripts have no meaning, it is more that they are often difficult for others to understand.  If I hand Emma her iPad and ask her to type me a story, she will most likely write something like, “rollercoaster, kiteflyer, greenride, hurricane harbor, waterslide” which is also in keeping with what she might say out loud.

These words are powerful to her, they hold a great deal of meaning, but to most people, they are seen as gibberish.  If this then is used to assess her capabilities she will not be well served.  However if I ask her to type me a story and then hold one end of a rod while she holds the other end with her typing hand and types with one finger while I pull her hand back after each letter is typed, she might type, ““One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over.  He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry.  The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that.  The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home.  The end.”  

Incidentally, that story is one Emma wrote when Rosemary was here working with her and is typical of the sorts of things she can and does type when given the kind of resistance I’ve described.  (You can read the entire post I wrote about her session with Rosie, ‘here‘.)  However, ask Emma to read out loud a story similar to the one she typed and she will have a great deal of trouble.  What she is capable of is far greater than what one might assume from what she verbalizes, whether that means reading out loud or with spontaneous speech.  Ask Emma to sing the lyrics of a song, in Greek no less, and she will get much of it right, but that’s a whole other post.

But how does one convince others that this is so?  Particularly when many are trained and told that reading out loud is a good indicator of ability.  There is surprisingly little written on the topic of the problems with reading out loud for those who have spoken language and word retrieval issues.  Again, in Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, she writes, “her reading aloud was bedeviled by the same word-finding problems which affected her spontaneous speech, preventing her reading with any fluency.”

Obviously there needs to be more written about all of this.  The closest I have found, other than Rosemary’s book, Speechless, is a blog, The Right Side of Normal,  that concentrates on “right brained children”.  And on that blog, this post specifically, Silent Reading versus Reading Aloud, which deals with, at least some of what I’m discussing here. If others know of other resources discussing any of this, please do leave me links in the comments section.

Rosemarie Crossley


89 responses to “The Pitfalls of Reading Out Loud

  1. I think that people who have in tact language skills assume that all language is the same, whether it’s spoken, written, sung, read, whatever. But that’s so far from the truth. I used to ask to be excused to the bathroom whenever it was my turn to read out loud in school because it was so embarrassing for me. I was an early reader and reading adult novels by third grade (and getting in trouble for it!) but when I looked at the words on the page in an effort to read out loud, they would start swimming around. I would constantly lose my place and stumble and repeat parts of the text to the point that teachers would often end my turn early to spare everyone.

    Even now I find it very hard to read aloud and will make many mistakes and then have little idea what I’ve just read. Wish I could explain why but to me it feels like a cross between a high rate of processing errors and performance anxiety (because I know my reading aloud doesn’t reflect my ability to read).

    It’s really interesting that you mentioned singing. Last spring I was visiting my MIL in a nursing home and her roommate was a stroke patient who used to be a professional singer. The woman could sing beautifully, remembering the words to dozens of songs, not missing a word or even the correct inflection of a syllable. But her conversational speech was halting, slurred and often confusing. The difference was stunning.

    • This is so very helpful. “when I looked at the words on the page in an effort to read out loud, they would start swimming around.” I don’t know that Em experiences the words on the page like this too, but I know it is next to impossible for her to read out loud pretty simple text. Her typed vocabulary far exceeds her spoken. She used the word “apparently” in a story she wrote the other day. This is a word that she has never, ever spoken aloud. And the singing… I wish I could find more articles about this too.

      • If I come across anything, I’ll forward it to you. I have a fascination with language/brain topics.

        Have you read anything by Oliver Sacks? His attitude toward autism is yucky but he’s written quite a bit about different language anomalies and why they might occur. Mostly they’re good illustrations of how complex language production and processing is.

  2. Thank you for this, Ariane.
    I have sensed a real discrepancy with reading aloud vs reading silently for H, and for some of the students with whom I work. I think you may have given me the nudge I need to let go of some of the last vestiges of teachery reticence that requires him to prove his comprehension by reading so it is somehow evidenced for me.
    Though assessment has its place… it should never act as a barrier for others. Sometimes what we learn about a child belies what we would typically expect, simply because it reveals or leads us to things we do not easily understand. Our lack of vision for a different way – another way of doing, or seeing, or processing should not be the defining factor. It is a completely ridiculous stance and flies in the face of presuming competence.

    ((Hugs)) and appreciation ♥

    • Oh I was really hoping you’d comment on this, as I really wanted to know if you knew of any articles written on this that you could send me the links to. I’m really astonished that there isn’t lots of writing about this. It seems to afffect so many, not just those who struggle with verbal language. I find it fascinating that you’ve seen this with H! For Em it is really difficult and frustrating for her. I can see how she struggles, but I am having a tough time explaining this to her school in a way that they can understand. So if you have suggestions there, please give them to me.

  3. Very helpful! Thanks so much, learning Lois

  4. Great post and very interesting for me. I’m homeschooling my 9 year old and he is unable to read out loud. He can’t even read a little book like “Pam and Sam”. But I know he can read, because he is able to answer questions (in writing or by pointing to the right answer). This is on a page of fill-in-the-blanks work.

    I hadn’t heard or thought about the resistance and how it might improve accuracy, but I think I may try that, because it seems some days he can answer the questions, but not others. So I didn’t know for sure if he could read or what the deal was.

    I’m going to get that book, since you keep quoting such good things out of it.

    I had suspected that the not-being-able-to-read-aloud issue was related to his difficulties with expressive speech, but can’t find anything about it to know what to do. I hate to keep going over the same beginning phonics work over and over, since he’s been working on that since Kindergarten and he’s in the 4th grade now. Yet I didn’t know how to proceed and neither did our school district when he was in school.

    So, the resistance and work with Rosemary is related to Facilitated Communication, right? Do you recommend that even children who are verbal (my son is at the 3 1/2 to 4 year old level) pursue FC? I had abandoned attempting to work with AAC when my son began making so much progress with speech. Thanks for any advice!

    • Yes, Rosemary developed FC in the 70s. FC is controversial, but when done correctly, it can be transformative. The goal of FC is always independence. I have no doubt my daughter will be able to type independently in time. She has no physical issues that would preclude this. And the more she communicates by typing the more she also is saying verbally. Even many with little or no speech see an increase in verbal language once they begin communicating through typing.
      Emma has some language and does use language often to good affect, but as I’ve written in other posts, her language can be unreliable.
      Once we stopped concentrating on her verbal output, we have seen a huge uptick in it as a by-product of her typing.
      I hope this answers your questions and if it doesn’t don’t hesitate to write back.

    • By all means pursue! My son also speaks but had never been able to show us how intelligent he is nor truly speak from his heart until he was introduced to FC.
      ” I only on keyboard do thinking like intelligent people. I am desiring a normal life like everyone. please help me understand my autism. I need to understand life as an autistic man. Kind mom like you i have trouble thinking when i wonder about typing and i love typing thoughts i only wish you were thinking about the able minded service that will help me live a good life. Just help me think how we can find a worth while highly joyful life for me.
      Finally intellingent typing is possible. ”

      • I love your son! I think I told you about him and Em in the swimming pool together. It was wonderful and I felt so lucky that I got to witness it! Tell him I said – Hi! Thank you so much for typing this! ❤

      • How would I go about getting started? Thanks for your help!

        • Marilyna – I’m hoping Palomino2013 jumps in here to answer as she is a far more seasoned facilitator than I am, but there are a few things you can do to begin. First, are there any physical issues that might hinder typing? Is he able to isolate his index finger? If yes, then you can begin with basic yes or no questions and then move on to fill-in, such as, “A c_t meows. The Institute for Communication and Inclusion has some fantastic materials you can get from their website. This is but one of many,

          On page 30 is the “ladder” which I have copied and pasted below. It should be started at the bottom with intention to move “up” the ladder over time.

          “30 Facilitated Communication Training Figure 3.1. Climbing the ladder: Activities leading to free communication
          by spelling.
          Self initiated conversation—where the users get their aid or ask for it without any prompt.

          Spontaneous conversation—where the topic is chosen by the user.
          Wide-ranging conversation—encouragement to use a range of sen- tence structures may still be necessary (e.g., “Now you ask me a question.”) .

          Answering questions—”What did you do at the weekend?” or “How did you like the movie?”
          Typing sentences in a set context—picture captions, describing pic- tures, speech balloons for cartoons.

          Exercises with a limited range of answers—”Give me a word that rhymes with ‘day’,” or “Give me the opposite of ‘big’,” or playing the game “Elephant.”
          Completing common sentences or phrases—”Fish and  “Too many cooks spoil
          Cloze exercises—”Put the missing word in the sentence, Bob  a car.”
          Exercises with set answers known to the receiver—crosswords, general knowledge questions, names of friends or family.
          Typing set words—”Spelt ‘horse'”; or labeling household items or pictures.
          Copy typing—”The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
          Replacing missing letters in words—perhaps on the Talking Lesson One or Speak and Spell computer toys.
          Word matching—Bingo, Lotto, word association games (group activity only)
          Yes/no, true/false, andmultiplechoice—simple quizzes,”Do dogs go meow?”; “Type C if you want coffee and T if you want tea.”

  5. It will be wonderful if the day ever comes where autistics are all counted as human beings worthy to breathe the same air as the rest of the folks on the planet.

    • I’m not sure what you are referring to specifically in this post, Judy, but I hope I have not said anything that would make you feel I do not see you or anyone else, regardless of their neurology, as unworthy.

      • Not at all ariane…I am just meaning in my comment that every day you stick up for autistics and continually explain and it is wonderful because ever so many people need to understand AND it will be a wonderful day when enough understanding is out there so that autistics will more often than not be automatically counted as valid human beings regardless of what we look like. Maybe not very nice of me, but I do wish that your blog and mine and many others will be put out business (as in nobody reads them anymore) because it is common knowledge, everybody knows, we are not only presumed to be competent, but are also treated as if we are competent and as if we really do belong to the human race. Hope I did explain it correctly. I do love that you write these things because at this point in time – TOTALLY necessary.

  6. Reminds me of school as a child. After moving from an area where I attended a G&T program to an area that didn’t offer one and being put in the regular classroom, my teacher refused to believe I could read at a 7th grade level in 2nd grade – because I didn’t read aloud fluently.

    But I have a stutter. And it was at its worst when I was in 2nd grade. I couldn’t read aloud fluently because I couldn’t speak fluently. I knew what I was reading, but if you asked me oral questions, I would purposefully shorten my answers to get past my stutter. I still do that – oral exams do not fully reveal my competence because my mouth isn’t comfortable enough with the act of speaking for me to feel confident that I’ll be able to get my full answer out, so I opt for one that is less thorough but I think I’ll be able to voice. Nor, for that matter do handwritten exams thanks to my motor dysgraphia – because writing is painful and difficult, I opt for shorter, less thorough answers. Get me to type, though, and I can write research proposals so good that my supervisor alters almost nothing of what I’ve written before he submits it to funding agencies.

    So, yeah. It was only because I’d been tested at 7th grade reading proficiency when I was allowed to read silently that I was saved from remedial English where my love of reading would have been crushed under endless repetitions of See Jack books. I know that’s what would’ve happened because my enjoyment of physical writing was likewise crushed under endless repetitions of handwriting sheets, since adults assumed that because I couldn’t form letters neatly, I didn’t have the understanding to form sentences competently and so wouldn’t let me actually write until I’d mastered handwriting – which I still haven’t. The only reason I learned how to write at all was because my 9th grade teacher knew writing proficiency is not related to the physical skill of handwriting and arranged for me to type instead.

    • I’m so sorry to read this and I wish I could say schools are now vastly different from your experience, but I can’t. 😦

      Emma’s school has asked me whether we want them to work on her handwriting at all and we have said, yes, because I had felt it was important that she be able to sign her name and be able to write legibly enough that a handwritten note could be read. But I certainly don’t want her to have anything like what you’ve described. I’m wondering what you have to say or recommend regarding handwriting. What would have been most helpful when you were in school? (I have told her teachers that any homework requiring writing will be done on her iPad, which I then print out and attach to her homework sheet. I am planning to get her an iPad that she can take with her to school, if they do not provide one for her.)

      • Things that would have helped: Variety. I also have a pretty much nonexistent boredom tolerance. Imagine doing something you find incredibly tedious. Most tedious task in the world. Then imagine that as soon as you finish it, someone undoes your work and makes you do it again. And again. And again. And again. Over and over and over. For hours on end. Then imagine that this tedious task also causes you physical pain to do. And that the pain worsens as you do it more. Then imagine that the person making you repeat this painful and tedious thing over and over and over denies that it’s painful and punishes you for complaining about the pain and tedium – it’s not enough that you subject yourself to mindless, pointless repetition and pain, but you also must do it cheerfully with feigned eagerness. Is it any wonder that I used to have meltdowns over it and explode in fury?! Anyone else would, too! And I only stopped having meltdowns when they’d broken down my spirit so badly that I just didn’t care anymore. About anything.

        Breaks. See above about repitition and pointless tedium.

        Purpose. Don’t make the kid repeat the task just for the sake of repeating it. If you’d be irritated at the pointlessness of it, any kid over the age of about 6 or 7 will be irritated, too (below that age, some kids do like to repeat stuff they’ve already mastered just for the sake of feeling the accomplishment of trying out a new skill. Older kids tend to grow out of it, or at least need less of it). If you want the kid to handwrite, there should be a point to it.

        Adults believing me about the pain it caused. Gaslighting is a thing. If the kid says writing is painful, believe them and pull in an O.T. to teach them ways of writing that aren’t painful. Don’t thump their back and cheerily say, “that doesn’t hurt! Keep going, you’re almost done!” Especially don’t to that if you’re lying about the almost done part.

        Not using it as a punishment. Part of why I grew to hate it so much was that adults recognized I had a hard time with tedium and would make handwriting practice a punishment. So then, when I was assigned handwriting practice that wasn’t punishment, it felt like unjustified punishment, and I would protest being punished when I hadn’t done anything. Never, ever use coursework as punishment. Particularly not coursework the kid has trouble with and is already predisposed to dislike.

        Scheduling. Part of why I hated handwriting lessons so much was because I never knew when it was going to hit me. For me, it was always best first thing in the morning – that way my arm wasn’t already tired. But even if I’d just had a way of knowing when I was going to be expected to do it, I could have emotionally prepared for it.

        No physical force. When I refused to write anymore because it was just unbearable, adults would pin me and physically force me to finish it – often leaving bruises or otherwise hurting me. Then they’d call my parents and tell them I’d been violent, when I was only resisting pain they were inflicting. And I’d go home and my parents would make me do even more of the stupid handwriting lessons, often physically forcing me themselves. But I was the violent one, yep, yep.

        Lastly, no punishments for not finding it easy. See above re: not using it as a punishment. Under no circumstances should E. be told that handwriting isn’t hard, or that she’s just being lazy, or that she could do it if she just put her mind to it. If she has fine-motor issues – I don’t know whether or not she does, but just bear with me – then basically you’re shaming her for something outside her control. Likewise, if her language issues affect her handwriting, she’d still be shamed for something outside her control. That’s not cool.

        I have so much shame and anger and other negative emotion wrapped up in my handwriting problems that I literally cry and shake every time I think about it too hard. It was that traumatic for me. You can do it well, I’m sure, because I was taught other things I find difficult in a productive way (grammar, for instance). But just be careful with it. If they approach it like they approached it for me, you’re setting yourself up for trauma and battles of wills and a lot of lifelong baggage for E. to deal with down the road.

        And don’t apologize for making me relive it – I’m choosing to freely because I think you’ll listen and I know you don’t want E. to go through that. Even though I’ll probably be shaky and upset all afternoon. Because if I can prevent even one kid having to go through that, it’s worth it.

        • Also: Don’t gatekeep other areas according to her handwriting proficiency. She shouldn’t be denied learning composition and grammar and suchlike because she can’t write her name neatly. One has nothing to do with the other. Sure, hold her back from calligraphy until she’s mastered cursive and from cursive until she’s mastered printing, but aside from that? Don’t use handwriting skill as an excuse to deny her any other subject.

          That goes for all other subject areas, too. If Milestone X is not absolutely necessary to grasp Subject Y, teaching Subject Y should not be delayed until Milestone X is achieved. It’s wrong to deny that to a kid with a DD for the same reason it’s wrong to say that someone with paraplegia shouldn’t be allowed to learn arithmetic because they can’t walk yet.

          • Oh, another! Don’t tie assignments in other subjects to her handwriting, especially if handwriting is something she’s only just learning and/or has a hard time with. I literally had my grades double when my ninth grade teacher arranged for me to be allowed to type all my work for all subjects. As far as I’m concerned, kids should be allowed to communicate answers to assignments and tests in the communication format that best suits their abilities. If they type well and have a bad time with handwriting, how in blazes does it make sense to test their understanding of subject material through their handwriting, when you know they can’t communicate well with it?!

            But they did that to me for years and I’d have so many marks docked I was nearly failing everything just because my handwriting was atrocious, and the teachers would be all, “You could do so well if you’d write neater,” but I couldn’t write neater but they wouldn’t listen about that and argh. It was incredibly aggravating.

            It’s just, for kids to do well at stuff, they need it set up in a way that they’re actually able to do well with it. If you set it up that a kid has to communicate their understanding through their least-proficient means of communication, you’re setting the kid up for failure. It’s like asking a student teacher who’s never taken a dance lesson in their life on their practicum to do their practical evaluation while communicating to the class solely with interpretive dance. It’s not a fair test.

        • Thank you so much for this. I really cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. *Crying, because this is so generous and thoughtful of you. Really. Thank you.

          I’m sending the link to your comment to her teachers and will discuss with my husband so that we are sure not to do this in a way that would cause her stress or pain.

          • You’re welcome

            The pain came from my motor dysgraphia. Because I don’t have good fine-motor control and proprioception, I tend to over-compensate for my difficulty with knowing where my body is and with controlling what my hands are doing by tensing my grip up. Which in turn makes my hand and arm cramp over time.

            An O.T. would have been able to identify my motor dysgraphia and teach me alternative grips for writing that I’d find easier and ways of writing that don’t cause pain. I’m probably too old to benefit from it now since my bad habits are strongly engrained, even if I could afford it. If my parents had gotten me evaluated as a kid for it, though, it would’ve been covered by the province.

        • Oh my gosh, Ischemgeek! Thank you so much for telling us all this! I am homeschooling my son and I don’t want to do these horrible things to him that you had to endure! I would never forgive myself for that. I’m going to print this out and live by it.
          Much of this I already felt, but it’s easy to question yourself!
          Thanks again and God bless!

          • No worries. It’s stuff that, to me, seems common sense for how to teach anyone anything – if being taught a given way for a subject you find difficult, boring, or both would have been upsetting or aggravating to you, don’t do it to a kid, but most of the teachers I had growing up didn’t put the effort in to figure out what was really going on and how to teach it productively. They pigeon-holed my writing issues as behavioral (because I did have more than my share of behavior issues, mostly due to boredom and being put in situations where I was set up to fail, either academically or behaviorally, so “she’s just being stubborn” was an easy explanation to reach for), figured they could out-stubborn a bratty kid, and never thought to reevaluate the decision even when it should have been more than obvious that not only were they making me miserable, but they were making me miserable as punishment for “behavior” I couldn’t control.

            I think as long as the authority figure comes into the teaching relationship with the kid from the point of view that anything happening is at least 50% not the kid’s fault, it will turn out okay. I teach martial arts to kids, and the best days are days when I assume if they’re misbehaving, it’s my fault for not being interesting, not their fault for not having discipline. Because kids are kids. If you bore them silly, don’t be surprised if they act silly. If you drive them up the wall, don’t be surprised if they’re bouncing off it. Kids respond to the tone adults set – so if they’re not marching to the beat you want them to march at, consider that you might be playing the wrong song on your drums.

      • My daughter has significant fine motor challenges and I, too, worried about her signing her name. But in the end, I realized that she ONLY needs to sign her name – pretty much all other writing can be done with electronic devices and typing. So I told her school to forget about handwriting and to put her into the art class – which she loved. She developed some good fine motor strategies there and had fun – a win-win. Later, in high school, I started talking to her about situations where she might need to write her name – specifically she could not reach some payment machines in stores so to keep her pin private, she would tell them to use it as a credit card – and she had to sign that. I checked with the bank and they do not care if the “official” signature is a whole name or not. They only care if it is consistent. So she decided to use her initials as her “official” signature.

        • I, too, use my initials as my signature, everywhere! 🙂

          • Same here: my signature is just my first initial with a tail. When I was younger I started out writing my full name, but it was never that consistent and I found it awkward. So I changed it. Never had any problems with banks and so on, but it does attract occasional comments from people who can’t believe that something so simple can be a signature.

            • Mine likewise started out as my full name… and eventually morphed into a dysgraphic scribble that looks vaguely like it might be something with meaning… maybe. XD

              Usually when I sign documents for new bank tellers, they look at it, raise their eyebrows, look at me, and say, “Well, that’s definitely going to be a hard one for anyone to forge.” and leave it at that. It’s never been an issue for me, and most people can only make out the first letter… ish.

            • I refer to mine as my “squiggle”. I sometimes think of signing as forging my own signature because, simple as it is, if I don’t concentrate it doesn’t look right. Not to me at least: I’m yet to be convinced that these things get checked very rigorously.

            • I have to get the first stroke right. After that, it works for me. But if the first stroke starts wrong, it throws everything else off, so I get you on the concentration thing.

        • Corbett – What a great idea! Most types of art rely on fine motor movement, but in a variety of ways and all are slightly different… I’m thinking – painting, sculpting, pottery, molding, collage etc.
          I tease my husband about his “signature” as it’s more a scrawl than anything anyone can actually read.

    • I both appreciate and cringe tthis comment and ones that follow…thankyoufor turning on a light bulb but now I feel terrible for doing it all wrong for 15 yrs 😦 I have much more to say both on this and the FC/AACtopic above but my phone is terrible so I will do so when I get home.

  7. I used to dread reading out loud in school. I used to stumble a lot. I can read novels quickly in my head for the most part but some parts I get stuck on (reading comprehension disability diagnosed in late 30’s!).
    Reading out loud, I can read but have no idea what I am reading. I can’t concentrate on both things at the same time.

    • Mandy, thanks so much for commenting.

      I cannot read out loud AND comprehend what I’ve read if I am reading aloud in a group where I feel even a little nervous. I can read out loud to my daughter or son and comprehend everything, so it is definitely about being stressed or anxious, so it’s different from what you have described. But when I’m stressed I completely get not being able to “concentrate on both things at the same time.”

  8. Hi Ariane, Loved the post. I have a similar thing with writing. I can speak until people’s ears drop off, but when I write words and sentences can disappear in the process of composition, and never make it to the page. People naturally suggest that I use voice recognition to write, but as soon as I’m in composition mode the same thing happens whether I’m speaking, typing or scribbling! Schools operate on the assumption of false norms. Its good that Emma has someone recognising her abilities and not mis-recognizing their absence.

    • A coworker of mine with dyslexia and difficulties with composition explains to me what she wants to say, and then I translate it to writing. Have you considered seeking that sort of an accommodation? It’s not dictation, per se, it’s more that she has a conversation with me where she explains her thoughts, I ask clarifying questions to get a handle on it, and then I put them into a word document for her.

    • Gregg – I’m really grateful to all who have shared their stories (and suggestions) as it has been absolutely essential in my continuing understanding. Without that help I would still be believing all kinds of things that Emma has shown me are incorrect.

  9. I’m not aware of any additional information on the subject, yours is the first post I’ve seen that really explores the difference between reading out loud and silent reading. Thank you!

    I have to admit that the only trouble I had in school was that I had a voracious appetite for reading. So when we did any reading with the class, I usually was a couple of chapters ahead by the time it was my turn (looking back, I think my teacher may have chosen me to read aloud as one of the last kids on purpose, because I had a nearly theatrical diction which might have confused or intimidated others). But the times I’ve been berated for not knowing the correct page… Ouch.

    I am going to forward this to the therapist who is in charge of our autism group sessions though. I got into a bit of an argument with her yesterday about the Sally Anne test. Let me clarify that: I think it tests for verbal cognitive ability, not empathy. The question asked is “Where will Sally look for her ball?” But what if you interpret that question as either “Where will Sally FIND her ball?” or “Where does Sally THINK her ball is?”. A small difference in wording but a huge difference in outcome. If your verbal skills aren’t that hot, especially if the question is spoken, not written (which is why your post reminded me of this), it would be extremely easy to misinterpret the actual wording and give what the NT therapist considers to be the wrong answer. And then you’re labeled with effing “lack of empathy”. This makes me very angry.

    • If you do hear of anything else out there, let me know.

      Also… regarding the Sally Anne test, which I really, really dislike the entire premise of, I wrote about it here – and a slightly edited version on HuffPo where you’ll see SBC’s comments (they’re the first ones listed in the comments section).

      • Thank you so SO MUCH. That post is even better. You explain things so well.

        I just want the therapists at my clinic to acknowledge that the Sally Anne test is not conclusive in any way. Not for adults, not for children (as Baron-Cohen seems to argue in his comments).

        Yes, a lot of children have trouble not focusing solely on their own thoughts and feelings. It’s something we ALL have to learn, that others have feelings too. It doesn’t mean it’s a deficit or lack of empathy. Just a developmental delay. (Surprise!)

        Especially because it’s so rare for an autistic person to meet someone who thinks in the same way. I didn’t meet anyone in person with an actual diagnosis until last WEEK. Or like one of your commenters said: “The difference is, an autistic person assuming that someone else’s brain functions in the same basic way theirs does only has a 1 in 88 chance of being right, while an NT person has an 87/88 chance.”

        Now I need to go cry somewhere because of the video of Tina. So much cry. Thank you for that as well. People who think like me. I feel what they feel. Their pain makes me cry. You have given me another person I can feel. Thank you.

  10. (((Autisticook)))) What is “the video of Tina”? By the way, SBC didn’t acknowledge in his comments the other point I was trying to make about how the test was basically a great example of two different neurologies, one thinking theirs is superior and then making conclusions about the other “inferior” neurology, based on a limited and biased point of view.

    PS On the same post on this blog some of the comments are priceless! (In a good way.)

  11. All so interesting and applicable to my son. I need to process this some more!

  12. Hi Ariane,

    This is so important; thank you for posting. I am actually surprised that teachers still determine reading ability based on reading aloud. It isn’t supported by research. As a former teacher, I would never use reading aloud as a gauge of comprehension or ability. In fact, it was only used when reading for entertainment and only based on volunteers. Students were allowed to read quietly first and then we might read certain key sections aloud. Many times I read to my students because it was better for comprehension to hear a proficient reader.

    As a student I remember that I could either read quietly for comprehension or read aloud and focus on pronunciation and correctness; I could not do both. Whenever I was called on to read aloud, after I did the reading aloud, I would have to go back and reread to understand and then catch up.

    And thank you so much for posting about “resistance” in typing and pointing. That has helped me so much in understanding and helping my little one. She is five, and we are doing kindergarten and now using Proloquo; it is working well. But like your Emma, if she has to answer a question on paper, or type, or select a key, she tries to “do” what she thinks is expected without the time to think about it. We use a little card I made with the steps for answering: listen, focus, think about your answer/what you want to say, be confident, and point with purpose. Just stopping and going over the five steps helps her to stop and focus on what she wants to say instead of giving a reaction answer. We use the same with typing — she gets so excited about communicating, she just wants to hit the keys; at those times we pause and practice “hovering the hand” over the keys and then with me touching her elbow, we continue.

    Sometimes just the pausing with our kiddos seem to help; the idea that an immediate response is not necessary, that there is nothing to prove, that she has and can take the time to think about it, that makes the difference.

    Thanks again for all that you share with us. Emma continues to be an inspiration to us as my girl doesn’t know anyone who struggles like she does. I wish there were adults or other children near for her to see she is not alone. Meanwhile, there is you and Emma and the others who come to this page. Thank you all so much!


    • Thanks so much Des. Really appreciate your comment.

      I have just been told by Em’s teacher that New York requires something called a SANDI assessment where there are components that “require read-aloud” samples. Not exactly sure what that means, but I will look into this as that news is very troubling…

      • I took a quick look at SANDI, and I don’t know why it would require a read aloud component.

        Reading aloud does not evaluate reading skill; if anything it is evaluating pronunciation and verbal speech patterns in reading; it is not even an authentic way of evaluating communication. So reading aloud is not valid for either reading assessment nor for communication evaluation. It seems basically a way to stress a child who has speech communication difficulty.

        If reading aloud is being used as a measure of reading comprehension skills (which to me is what reading is as there is little point of reading skills when comprehension is not being taught), then it directly violates the accommodations for a child with speech/communication difficulties. They are using a child’s difficulty/disability to evaluate learning and understanding, and that to me is very wrong. It is equivalent to saying if someone doesn’t speak clearly, then they don’t comprehend.

        I am homeschooling now, mainly because when I was an teacher and education consultant I was so tired of trying to explain things to educators that should be common sense. I hope the school will be willing to work with you and to understand how wrong it is to use a child’s disability as a means to test that child’s comprehension of other learning that is not connected. Reading ability, intelligence, and ability to learn are not connected to verbal speech. My best wishes to you and Emma.


  13. I grew up and was educated in the 70’s and 80’s. I was and am an excellent reader but struggled because no one thought I could read. I would give beautiful oral book reports but the teacher would never believed I had read the book as when she would ask me to read the book aloud, I would sound illiterate. It was not until I was in university and officially diagnosed as dyslexic that the mystery was explained.

    For so many years I was frustrated and believed myself to be stupid, the diagnosis was liberating. The ability to read aloud did eventually become easy and enjoyable to me and now I read aloud every night to my kids to everyone’s enjoyment.

    So courage Emma and others like her. I promise, you will be ok. You can be an amazing reader without the teacher knowing about it…. and who cares what they think anyway? Truthfully, it is what you KNOW that matters.

  14. Sorry I haven’t read comments here but I wanted to say yes. Reading aloud is one of the most uneven skills I’ve had to deal with. One of my most vivid memories of 2nd grade is sitting stuck at a table with my “reading group” and the teacher. Each of us is required to read one sentence aloud then the next person reads the next sentence, etc. There are 6 of us. By the time its my turn, I’ve read 3 pages ahead. I have no idea where we are. I panic. Someone (probably the person next to me) helps me find the right paragraph and points to where she left off. I stumble over the sentence, freaked out because my brain is 3 pages ahead, and every word I form, I have to go back sentences to get to the next one because my brain is so far ahead of my mouth. I stumble and stutter through the 12 or 14 words and then its someone else’s turn. By the time they’re back to me, I’ve finished the story. Why do I have to read this aloud? It’s boring. I’d rather be reading The Two Towers, which is what I’m reading on my own. I’ve already read every story in this stupid reading book. To my teacher, it appears I have low reading abilities. My comprehension and ability to follow a story is nothing, and I have attention issues. What she misses is a very bright, hyperlexic kid who shouldn’t be reading these silly stories, because they’re not interesting or challenging her at all. Reading aloud is officially USELESS. It doesn’t measure anything.

  15. The gold standard for reading is to be able to do so silently with comprehension. Reading aloud, choral reading is a different skill set. And I have to say, Rosie Crossley is one of the most persistent, fearless compassionate and brilliant women in our blessed field of practice.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! We are forever indebted to Rosie. She is absolutely incredible and has helped ALL of us tremendously. I will never forget all those hours she spent with us, helping not just my daughter, but us too.

    • I wonder how she can continue with all the slander FC has received. (unfairly!). I know I wouldn’t have thick enough hide. But then, seeing people communicate who’ve never had the opportunity would be extremely rewarding.

  16. I dislike reading aloud because it is so different from the way I normally read and this makes it feel uncomfortable. My usual reading speed is fast, much faster than my speech, and I scan phrases, groups of words, even whole sentences. In contrast when I read aloud I have to plod along one word at a time. My reading voice is monotonous — my wife occasionally asks me to read to her in bed because it helps her fall asleep!

    Pronunciation, especially of unfamiliar non-English words and names, trips me up as I try different options until I find one that I feel comfortable with. And then there’s a problem I also have when speaking where the words I am saying lag behind the ones in my mind, and what comes out of my mouth becomes jumbled.

    • “I scan phrases, groups of words, even whole sentences.” This. This is exactly what I am beginning to think is going on with Emma. This is also exactly what the blog I linked to in the post describes as “right brain” learners.

      • I’d forgotten that I had intended to go back and follow that link — thanks for the nudge.

        One paragraph there sums it up for me — I know that I am a strongly visual thinker:

        “The other thing a right-brained child typically does when he’s learning to read is translates the words to a visual. They only need to capture “enough” words to do so, often taking in whole chunks of words, some have even said they can take in entire paragraphs! (boggles my mind) and captures the visual. By making a young right-brained reader read aloud, you are preventing them from taking in and converting larger chunks of words into pictures, which is the core of their comprehension ability. Without comprehension and enjoyment, what’s the point of reading?”

        • That was EXACTLY the paragraph I thought of when I read your first comment!
          I’m in the middle of trying to write a post about language acquisition and how I observed Emma to acquire phrases when she was a baby and not individual words. I cannot find a single article written within the last ten years on this topic…

          • I wish I could remember much about my own language acquisition, but most details are lost to me. I do know I was hyperlexic and I remember repeating phrases aged 4-5 (some of which got me into trouble — I didn’t know I was repeating something rude because I wasn’t aware of the meaning, I just copied the sounds!). But I have Aspergers, so any delay in language would not have been so pronounced as to have provoked undue concern in my parents.

            I’d never considered acquisition of phrases as opposed to words: I think it’s possible that you have identified something here that has had little or no specific research.

    • This is actually how I read, too. I will often misremember how something is precisely phrased because I scan for phrases and read that – so I remember the set of phrases that I parsed something as, not necessarily the exact wording. For example, if a UK author writes a series of things as “Firstly, …. Secondly, …. etc” I’ll remember it as First, …. Second, …., because that’s how North American dialects treat such series. It’s not the exact wording, but it’s close enough for learning/comprehension purposes.

      Also, I can read much faster than I can speak, so reading aloud is a problem because my eyes dash ahead and have finished the paragraph by the time my mouth is done voicing the first sentence. And so I tend to jump ahead too much when I’m reading.

      Pronunciation is also difficult for me, in part because of my speech impediments and also in part because I have a hard time pronouncing stuff in a way contrary to its appeared etymology. By which I mean: Even though “clique” is pronounced “click” where I live, I’ll still pronounce it the French way if I’m reading aloud or if I’m not watching myself. Because it looks French, so I want to pronounce it according to French pronunciation rules.

      I’m also extremely visual. I’m very good at math, for example, but I can’t just do an equation, I have to be able to picture what’s going on in my head before I get the answer. Often my brain will have a visual representation of the answer that I can very easily translate to an equation long before I can backtrack to prove that I’m right in a way that other people can understand. “It just looks right. It’s a purpley-green conic section, after all!” isn’t really something people who do math in the normal way even understand, let alone accept as an answer. Even though if you’re asking me to integrate something, that might be my mental reasoning.

      • That brought back memories of being marked down in math tests because I didn’t show working. The answers were just obvious. Why should I have to synthesize a sequence of steps that I don’t go through to demonstrate to the teacher’s satisfaction that I understand what is going on. Surely consistently correct answers prove that. But he wouldn’t accept that and marked me down. 25 years later and I’m still smarting from the injustice.

        • I get you there! I never could understand why they made me reverse-engineer my brain to write everything out on paper a longer and less-efficient way.

          Another time, I had a long argument with my fifth grade math teacher over why I should have to use a calculator when my brain was faster. He forbade me to use mental math! Outrage!

          In both cases, I’d just do it my way first and then figure out how to express it their way later.

          • That’s what I ended up learning to do, so I’d have the problem at the top, the solution at the bottom and then fill in the blank lines. Still felt like regression to baby steps!

            And using a calculator: I put up with all the questioning and criticism, persisting in mental arithmetic and hand-worked calculations because I preferred using my brain and I made fewer mistakes: I tended to hit the wrong keys and errors aren’t immediately apparent (unless you end up an order of magnitude or more out).

            • Same. I’ll use a calculator for stuff that isn’t easy to mental math (particularly with nested things, logarithms and square roots), but I have no idea why they required it for basic arithmetic.

            • I reached my limit mentally somewhere around 3D vector arithmetic: beyond 3 dimensions I have difficulty visualizing. But there was so much writing involved in documenting the prescribed steps it was painful! As for plugging that lot into a calculator… tedious or what.

              But yes, definitely didn’t (often) work through the power series for trig or other transcendental functions by hand. But once or twice… just for fun, obviously.

            • I usually spent my first assignment in uni figuring out how many steps I could get away with skipping, not lying. Math is one of the few things I have a hard time doing on a computer. Fortunately, commonly-used math symbols are ones easy for me to write. But long derivations usually make me have to take hand-massage breaks to work out the cramps.

        • Unfortunately, I am guilty of this. I taught algebra to my homeschooled nephew and he was always figuring out the problems in his head, while I insisted he write out the steps! He didn’t get marked down or anything, but I realize now I should have encouraged this instead of dampening his enthusiasm for math.

          • Writing out the steps is intended to demonstrate knowledge of the prescribed methods used to solve the problem. Difficulties arise when somebody has a good enough understanding to improve upon those basic methods and is able then to take short cuts. At that point the way one approaches the problem is non standard and most educators do not have the flexibility in their curriculum to accommodate this.

            To be fair to you public examinations, at least the ones I sat, did require working to be shown. The marking schemes reflected this, so I should aim my criticism at the examiners rather than the teachers.

          • And I am guilty (I am only now realizing) of doing something else, which is to cover parts of the text, so that she is forced to read line by line. I’m thinking this is similar to forcing someone to “show their work”. Anyone? Jump in if you think this is incorrect.

        • Ah showing work the bane of my older sons existence…I meet w principal and teachers soon I’m non custodial parent of him so they don’t have to listen but I have to try…and all these comments are coming with me 🙂

  17. Pingback: Language Acquisition? | Emma's Hope Book

  18. thanks ! nice post !

  19. Wrote this about names last month, because am needing to pick new legal name, but it applies to all words:
    “Written words are not at all the same as the spoken words, they are two separate languages to me. A typed name may not relate to it’s spoken version enough to work, even if it otherwise fits and can be pronounced correctly. If the spoken and written name versions are too dissimilar, I will have trouble responding to it. Figuring this out takes time, hearing the name spoken and seeing it written. Discord between written and spoken words gets worse over time.”

    If written word is too unlike spoken word, it is very hard to maintain link between the two words and translating between written and spoken becomes very difficult. Some times I have to ask people to write what they are saying because I do not understand, I think it is because of this.

    Also. Written words are static. Spoken words only exist for a fraction of a second and then are gone, can not be recalled, disappear forever. Instantaneous processing and understanding of language is requirement for understanding spoken words.

    Also. Spoken words are never exactly the same even when spoken by the same person in supposedly same tone of voice. They always sound different every time. How to know when a spoken word is different enough to be a new word instead of a different pronunciation of the same word, I do not know this.

    Obviously am do not read out loud since can not talk. But if I could it would be waste of effort to use as judge of reading comprehension. Like judging person’s ability to read French by making them speak German. It is silly.

    • Thanks so much for this Ari. This is really interesting and not something I’ve heard before – “Written words are not at all the same as the spoken words, they are two separate languages to me. A typed name may not relate to it’s spoken version enough to work, even if it otherwise fits and can be pronounced correctly.”

      And then this, “Spoken words are never exactly the same even when spoken by the same person in supposedly same tone of voice. They always sound different every time. How to know when a spoken word is different enough to be a new word instead of a different pronunciation of the same word, I do not know this.”

      Really appreciate this being added to the discussion. Really important points…

  20. This is exactly what I needed to read! I have been struggling and trying to articulate to Daniel’s teachers that this is what is happening. When he had to do the beginning of the year evaluation tests to see where he was at he scored above average.

    I sat with him to read to him if he needed any assistance, but I noticed that he was answering the questions with such speed that I was concerned that he was just guessing. However, after I saw the scores I thought that he actually was reading that quickly.

    For me personally, I do not read aloud very well and I never have – it was a source of great stress for me and I would fumble on my words, they got jumbled and confused. I read much faster, I am a fast reader, when I do not read aloud.

    You have given me some a great insight and some ideas to use with Daniel. Thank you! Thank you!!

    And now I am going to read your next post to see what you have to share.

    • This whole discussion has been really helpful to me too, hearing from others, reading other experiences, see similar experiences and questions voiced by others, all of it has been fantastic! Thanks so much for adding your comment to the mix!

  21. Amazing post… so many things I have never thought of.

    In the context I work in English is only a second spoken language for most kids and sometimes third. But it is often the only language they learn to read and write. Therefore comprehension could sometimes be an issue for them. Actually I have no idea as to what their levels of comprehension in English could be. But they do struggle with it in school assessments.
    But I am definitely going to try to check comprehension (lay aside my assumptions awhile).

    Thank you so much for this.

  22. I understand resistance is challenging her to use more than just the scripts that are easy for her.

  23. I read this post on Thursday and almost jumped out of my skin. It was the Aha moment i needed. It made me look back onto my own childhood and my Learning Disabilities and shake my head ‘YES, this is me’ . Then I thought about my 9 yo NT son and finally have been able to realize I have been judging his competence by his spoken language (as others have done with me). I have spent the past few years making him read everything to me out load. And stressing myself and him about the results. I have a horrible time reading allowed – no amount of practice, tutoring or guidance helped me. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to see the correlation between my own issues and my sons without this post. Now I am able to take a different approach to comprehension by taking the talking out of it. All of your posts are very thought provoking. You are not lecturing us – you planting seeds and getting us to think and come to our own conclusions. Thank you.

  24. In India, some of the kids I teach speak 3 languages.

    Thanks for the post.

  25. Pingback: Everything about you talking about! The language proficiency is Louder Than Words | CBM-EU.COM

  26. ok finally home…ischemgeek randomly enough my idiot phone would let me reply to specific threads but not laptop grrr….anyway what you described as far as shortening everything describes my son to a T I am meeting with his school tues…long story but that comment and also the what TO do is getting printed for them.I have used writing as punishment just because nothing else worked…I’m so frustrated bc I hurt him and got it wrong all these years…Im still trying to figure out what might help. Unlike younger son who is non verbal so the difference is obvious my oldest aspie just comes across as spoiled and disobedient….I am so very grateful for you and others like you speaking up…and for ariane having such influence and courage to tackle the difficult and having circles of friends who comment to clue us idiotic NT parents in..I have 2 1/2 yrs left to help….I am the non custodial parent to him so I have to make separate meetings and do not get informed of IEP…any suggestions welcome as to what helped you at or as a reply comment here.

    as far as the beginning comments on AAC even if they start to aquire language as Ariane has mentioned its not always reliable…and I have also heard so many stories from autistic ppl about losing language when upset so I think its highly preferable to have a secondary method…or primary depending on how advanced language is. Spoken language can be encouraged but when overly stressed they may need another option. I have no idea if my youngest son will ever say anything intelligible but he has an AAC that we busted butt to get and even if he does speak eventually it will always be an option if he needs it.

  27. Pingback: Changing Our Thinking | Emma's Hope Book

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