Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Planning Instruction and Self-Regulation Training: Effects on Writers with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Planning Instruction and Self-Regulation Training: Effects on Writers with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

Writing is becoming an increasingly important element across curricular areas. However, many children struggle with this key literacy skill. In fact, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (Greenwald, Persky, Campbell, & Mazzeo, 2002), the writing performance of 14% of students in Grade 4 falls below a "basic" level of writing achievement. That percentage escalates to 44% for students with an identified disability.

One way to improve educational outcomes for children with disabilities is to provide exemplary writing instruction beginning early in the primary grades before difficulties become more pervasive. Early interventions may maximize the writing development of all children in general, minimize the number of students who develop writing problems as a result of poor instruction, reduce the effects of writing difficulties experienced by children with writing disabilities, and produce more powerful benefits than later remediation efforts (Harris, Mason, Graham, & Saddler, 2002). Early intervention in writing is more effective than waiting until later grades to address difficulties (Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006).

Although early instructional interventions in writing have proven effectual for students with writing disabilities in general (c.f. Danoff, Harris, & Graham, 1993; Saddler, Moran, Graham, & Harris, 2004), there has been little research conducted in this area with writers with more severe disabilities and, in particular, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This is surprising as an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with ASD (Myles & Simpson, 2001) with the Autism Society of America reporting approximately 1 in 150 children receiving an ASD diagnosis (Autism Society of America, 2008) and given that writing is an area that is often challenging for these children (Griffin, Griffin, Fitch, Albera, & Gingras, 2006).


Children with ASD exhibit a wide variety of characteristics that may inhibit their ability to write effectively. For example, they may have motor/coordination issues (Falk-Ross, Iverson, & Gilbert, 2004), which could impact their handwriting. In addition, literal thinking, lack of abstract ideation, and difficulty imagining possible future events and scenarios (Myles, 2005; Myles & Simpson, 2001; Winter, 2003) could undermine their ability to plan and write an imaginary story for an absent audience. Students with ASD may also lack the ability to elaborate their thoughts and write in depth (Myles et al., 2003), and may be less likely to provide causal explanations and insight into internal mental states (Losh & Capps, 2003), which could make for short, nondescriptive writings. They may further lack organizational skills (Moore, 2002), which may make the act of systematizing and transferring their thoughts to paper difficult, leading to stories that are hard to understand.

In addition to these characteristics, deficits in self-regulation may impact writing abilities for children with ASD (Myles, 2005). Self-regulation is a central element of writing that skilled writers use to navigate the complexities of the writing process (Graham & Harris, 1993; Hayes & Flower, 1986). The ability to self-regulate in writing involves monitoring, assessing, and reinforcing writing behaviors without depending on prompts from adults or other skilled writers (Harris & Graham, 1996).

Unfortunately, children with ASD exhibit poor self-regulatory abilities. These children typically exhibit distractibility and decreased attention towards a task to a greater degree than a child with a learning disability (Bieberich & Morgan, 2004). They may further lack self-management skills (Koegel, Koegel, & Carter, 1999) and may fail to use self-directed speech to regulate their behaviors (Joseph, McGrath, & Tager-Flusberg, 2005). …

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