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The Basic Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism
Ages: 5-12   Grades: K-7

Do you have children with autism who can read words well beyond their grade level but don't have any comprehension of what they just read?  That's hyperlexia, the ability to read words but with an apparent lack of comprehension.



  • Learn 100 sight words
  • Turn fluent readers into readers who comprehend what they read
  • Understand events, settings, and characters in text
  • Use these comprehension strategies: identify details and main idea, create visual images, sequence stories, sequence events, and find specific information in text
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Strengthen the comprehension of children with hyperlexia with this program that uses their strength of visual learning.  Children learn to create visual images at the word and sentence level in a predictable format.  Sight words and sentences are taught with accompanying Boardmaker symbols and line illustrations. 

The program consists of a storybook with twenty stories divided into two difficulty levels; 576 sight word/symbol/picture cards; and a dictionary.  The 288 sight words are adapted frorm a list found in The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists as well as those commonly found in many children's literature books. 

Level 1 teaches sight word vocabulary comprehension.  Ten simple stories each target 10-12 sight words.  Children learn to create visual images for the sight words using the sight word cards (words are displayed with picture symbols only and with text only).  The sight word visual images are associated with written text in rebus-type stories that feature strong visual supports.

Level 2 contains 10 higher-complexity stories to help children practice these critical reading comprehension skills:

  • looking for details in a picture—identify items and details in a picture and answer questions about the picture
  • creating visual images of vocabulary words—associate picture symbols with new vocabulary in the story
  • creating visual images of sentences—match visual images to sentences in the story
  • finding specific information in a text—answer wh- questions using picture prompts
  • sequencing events in a story—put three pictures in the correct story sequence
  • finding the main idea—choose the best picture for the story and choose the title that matches the picture

The Dictionary helps students organize new words by connecting them to previously learned words.  Each word in the dictionary can be looked up for the meaning (text definition) and for the category (picture format).  Words are listed alphabetically and organized into 39 categories.  


Copyright © 2003

180-page storybook, 133-page dictionary, 576 perforated sight word/symbol/picture cards, vinyl bag

Today was our first day using the The Basic Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism program and Autism/PDD Picture Stories and Language Activities.  It went very well and my student was so engaged.  And I have never heard him verbalize so much on his own!  He loved the pictures and the repetition.  I wish we could have been doing this all along!

Rebecca Stroh, Teacher
Bloomington, IL


I am a teacher of students on the autism spectrum and I have been using your Basic Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism this year.  I am loving it!

Lisa Stucker, Teacher
Parker, CO

  • Speech-language pathologists should enhance access to literacy and academic instruction for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASHA, 2006).
  • For children with hyperlexia, use reading skills as a primary means of developing language.  Teach reading comprehension specifically. Use written and visual models, as well as patterned language and fill-in-the-blank sentence forms (Kupperman, 1997).
  • Text comprehension can be improved by instruction that helps readers use specific comprehension strategies, such as monitoring comprehension, using graphic and semantic organizers, answering questions, generating questions, recognizing story structure, and summarizing (NIFL, 2003).
  • Students need to understand semantic connections among words (Taylor-Goh, 2005).

The Basic Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). (2006). Roles and responsibilities of speech-language pathologists in diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders across the life span. [Position Statement]. Retrieved March 16, 2009, from

Kupperman, P. (November 1997). Precocious reading skills may signal hyperlexia. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 13, 1-4.

National Institute for Literacy (NIFL). (2003). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read. Retrieved March 16, 2009, from

Taylor-Goh, S. (2005). Royal college of speech & language therapists: Clinical guidelines. United Kingdom: Speechmark.


Pam Britton Reese, Nena C. Challenner


Pam Britton Reese, M.A., CCC-SLP, is currently working as a clinical supervisor at the Hearing, Speech, and Language Clinic at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  She has worked with children with autism since 1997.  Pam is also the author of The Source for Alzheimer's & Dementia.

Nena C. Challenner, M.Ed., is an assistant principal at Longbranch Elementary School in Midlothian, Texas.  She has over 20 years of experience in general and special education.  Pam and Nena are also the co-authors of Autism & PDD Social Skills Lessons – Primary, Intermediate, and Adolescent; Autism & PDD Concept Development; Autism & PDD Expanding Social Options; and Autism & PDD Safety.


Cindy is a third grade girl with autism.  She amazed her family when she began to "read" at age 2 with no formal instruction.  By third grade, she could read aloud almost any text put in front of her, and often read portions of the newspaper to her father.  But unfortunately, Cindy was unable to answer questions about what she had read or to retell a simple story.

Does Cindy sound familiar to you?  Cindy has a form of autism and is also hyperlexic.  Many children with autism display symptoms of hyperlexia.  Hyperlexia is defined as "the precocious self-taught ability to read words with an apparent lack of comprehension" (Mirenda and Erickson 2000, p. 349).  Characteristics of hyperlexia include:

  • word recognition skills that go beyond cognitive and/or language abilities
  • compulsive reading of words
  • being able to read at the age of 2-5
  • being able to read without direct instruction (Silberberg & Silberberg, 1967)
  • a discrepancy between word recognition skills and reading comprehension (Cobrinik, 1974)

Some researchers are pointing to the link between language comprehension and reading comprehension.  People with poor receptive language skills have more trouble comprehending what they have read than people with strong receptive language skills (Cunningham, 1993).  For children with autism, the weakness of their receptive language skills combines with their strength as visual learners to create hyperlexia (Mirenda & Erickson, 2000).

How do we strengthen the comprehension of children with hyperlexia?  First we want to look at what good young readers do.  Good readers have broad background knowledge and vocabularies.  Good readers use visual images to understand events, settings, and characters in the text.  Good readers read words accurately and fluently and understand the meaning of the words, phrases, and sentences as they read.

Many children with autism also read words accurately and fluently, yet they lack the background knowledge and understanding of vocabulary to attach meaning to the text.  Children with autism often rely on visual information to understand the world around them.  Our goal is to maximize the combined strengths of word recognition and visual learning to increase the comprehension of words and text for children with hyperlexia.

Poor readers "are often not familiar with the vocabulary they encounter and have trouble determining word meanings" (Texas Education Agency, 2000).  Children with autism also have trouble determining the meaning of words that they read.  This is one of the hallmark features of hyperlexia.  "For poor readers, comprehension can be enhanced through instruction focused on concept and vocabulary growth and background knowledge . . ." (Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998).  The strategies included in this kit will increase sight word vocabulary and help children with autism increase their comprehension of the words that they read.

All children need some instruction in reading comprehension, but it is critical for children with autism.  In addition, children with autism need help creating visual images for words and sentences that they read.  Typically-developing children gain some comprehension from pictures before actual reading.  Readers will often look at the cover of a book and predict what might happen in the book.  As children become good readers, they tend to comprehend phrases and sentences (Calkins, 2001).  Children with hyperlexia can learn to comprehend at the word level (Frith and Snowling, 1983) but are unable to make the mental images needed at both the word and sentence levels to become good readers.

For children with autism, the most important comprehension skill to develop is creating visual images.  This kit not only aids them in creating visual images but also provides strategies for teaching more difficult comprehension skills.

The Basic Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism consists of two books and 576 sight word comprehension cards.

This book consists of two levels.  Level 1 has 10 simple stories using many of the sight words included in the Sight Word Comprehension Cards set.  These stories serve as an introduction to teaching sight word vocabulary comprehension.  Level 2 contains 10 more complex stories to help children with autism create visual images and practice important comprehension skills.

Level 1: Stories for Sight Word Comprehension
First, choose one of the stories (e.g., My School ).  Find the targeted Sight Word Comprehension Cards for the words used in the story.  The targeted sight words are listed on the title page of each story.  In My School, the words targeted are read, write, sing, color, play, work, fun, school, at, and have.  Begin by teaching four to six concepts at a time, although some children will be able to learn at a quicker rate.  Keep in mind each child's skill and attention level when choosing the number of sight word concepts to teach at one time. (See the information on pages 7 and 8 for an explanation on how to use the Sight Word Comprehension Cards.)

After introducing the sight word concepts, read the story to the child.  Let the child read the story to you.  Emphasize the rhythm of the text.  Try acting out the text with the child.  Have fun!  You may reproduce the stories for children to color and take home.  Reread the new story often.  Children love to revisit favorite stories.

Level 2: Stories and Activities to Teach Comprehension Strategies
Each story in this section provides opportunities to practice the following comprehension strategies:

  • looking for details in a picture
  • creating visual images of vocabulary words
  • creating visual images of sentences
  • finding specific information in a text
  • sequencing events in a story
  • finding the main idea

The activity pages with each story may be used in two ways: you may photocopy, color, and laminate the pages and cut-out cards to create a reusable set of activities for each story, or you may photocopy the pages and have each student read, color, cut, and glue his own work.

Choose a story from Level 2.

  • Start with Page A.  Look at the picture with the child.  Point to the small pictures at the bottom of the page.  Have the child circle each small picture that appears in the large picture.  The child also may put an X on small pictures not found in the large picture.  Then ask the yes/no questions.  Some children will need to use the yes/no symbols to answer the questions.
  • Page B is a one-page story with picture symbols above the targeted vocabulary.  Read the story to the child.  Point to the picture symbols as you read.
  • Pages C and D help the child make a visual image for each sentence.  As you read each sentence, use a blank sheet of paper to cover the unread sentences.  Allow plenty of time for the child to process each sentence and picture.  Page D gives additional practice in linking the sentence to a visual image.  Have the child place each picture from page DD by the appropriate sentence.
  • Page E teaches children to answer wh- questions by finding details in the text.  Read the sentence as you point to the picture prompt.  Then read the question and point to the question picture prompt.  Repeat the sentence and point to the picture prompt that answers the question.  Read the question again and encourage the child to point to the picture prompt that answers the question.
  • Page F focuses on sequencing events in a story.  The child should place the pictures above the first, next, and last symbols at the top of the page to represent three parts of the story.
  • Page G helps the child find the main idea of the story by choosing the best picture for the story and then choosing the title that matches the picture.

Good readers organize new words by connecting them to previously learned words or ideas for future retrieval.  Children with autism lack the ability to organize new information with existing knowledge.  Each word in the dictionary can be looked up for the meaning (in text) and/or for the category (in picture format).  The definitions and sample sentences will help the child attach meaning to the word.  By placing the dictionary pictures into categories, we are hoping to create a "semantic organizer" (Twachtman, 1995, p. 147) to help children with autism organize new vocabulary and concepts.

Sight Word Comprehension Cards
These cards are a collection of 288 words commonly found in books for young readers.  This list is adapted from a list found in The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists (Fry, Kress & Fountoukidis, 2000).  We have also included sight words that are not in our stories but are in many children's books so that the cards may be used with any children's literature.

Each sight word is printed in two ways: cards with text only and cards with a picture symbol on one side.  Some cards may also have an illustration on the other side to provide different examples of the sight word.  A complete listing of the Sight Word Comprehension Cards and a reference chart matching the symbol with its sight word are included.

The Sight Word Comprehension Cards can be found in the eight booklets of perforated cards.  Before you begin, carefully perforate the cards in each booklet.  Match each sight word with its symbol and paper clip them together.  Place each set of cards in an envelope (e.g., Pronouns, Words that Describe).

Introduce the concepts by using the cards with the pictures.  Say the word aloud as you point to the picture.  Next, place the cards in front of the child in a row.  Say each picture and ask the child to point to the picture named.  Give the child a card that has only the text on it.  Read the word.  Encourage the child to match the text card to the picture card.

The goals for students using the Sight Word Comprehension Cards are:

  • identify picture symbols on the prompt cards
  • match text card to corresponding picture prompt card
  • read words in simple stories

Few things are more rewarding to a teacher than helping a student understand a concept for the first time.  We like to call this an "Aha!"  It is our hope that as you use the materials in this kit, you will see the sparkle of understanding in a child's eyes.  Learning to read is a gift for every child.  We wish you all the best in your endeavor to give children the gift of reading.

Pam and Nena