The inspiration for this adapted book comes from a student I had in my classroom several years ago. He was in fourth grade, and we were super excited because he had learned to read his first book. It was a popular nursery rhyme, The Three Little Pigs. And even though he had probably memorized a lot of the book, he could turn the pages and point to each word as he read aloud. It was a huge milestone and we couldn’t have been more proud.
So of course, we wanted to have my student share this new skill with his parents at home. So we sent them the name of the book and told them pick up a copy. They got it the next day, and went to read it with him that night. But he could not read the book. We thought maybe it was a problem with generalization between home and school, but he did fine with other activities. We kept looking for the reason of why he could read at school but not at home, but had no answers. We even videotaped him reading the book at school and sent it home. And that is when we discovered the problem. The parents said the book he was reading did not look exactly like the book they had bought at home. They sent their book into the school, and it turns out they had a different edition of the book. And the biggest difference between the two books was the font.
He had learned how to read in one font, but could not read the same words in another font. There are two learning style challenges in autism that contribute to these types of situations. The first is gestalt learning. Many individuals with autism learn information in whole chunks, and may not understand the meaning of the parts that go into making up broader concept. In this case, my student was not recognizing the letters and how they formed words, but more the shapes and contours of each word. When those contours looked different in another font, he was not able to read. The second issue is difficulty with generalization – a common challenge for individuals with autism. Learning something in one context, and then transferring the skill to a new environment or with new materials, can often be problematic. My student had learned how to read a specific book with a specific font, and the new book was literally like starting over again.
This book, Spiderman: Amazing Powers was adapted to help with understanding and generalizing different fonts. There are over 150,000 fonts – and many of them look quite different. By using a book like this we can help students begin to gain more perspective on how to generalize reading even when the words may not look the same. To create the book, we first attached two laminated sheets to the top back pages of the book, and then put strips of velcro across.
We then printed out a word from each page in several different fonts, and laminated and velcroed them onto the white pages. We also added five velcro dots to each page, since the student will be matching five words on each page.
We then used highlighter tape to highlight the key word within each sentence.
The highlighter tape works well because it is removable and you can change which word is highlighted to make the book flexible. To use the book, students flip through the pages and move all the matching words in the different fonts to match the highlighted word.
Here are five books for under $6 that would work well for generalizing fonts. Any book with larger text and high interest themes is great for this type of activity.