Direct Instruction: It even works for kids with autism

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happy studentSeptember 19, 2013

I sent this letter to the Commissioners of a Review Committee within a State Board of Education. The Commissioners were considering whether to approve a set of Direct Instruction curricula for use by school districts within the state. Please note that Direct Instruction curricula align with the new Common Core Standards.

What is Direct Instruction?

For those who may not be familiar with Direct Instruction (DI): this is a body of academic curricula for teaching reading, writing, math, spelling, language and language to students in grades K-8. What makes Direct Instruction unique is that it is based on scientific principles of human learning, the same principles that we see in ABA programs; these principles include use of positive reinforcement, shaping, cues, signals, prompting, and fading. But there is more.  According to the Association for Direct Instruction:

“(T)he real power of a DI program comes from the careful analysis of each skill taught. The skill is broken down into its component parts, then each component skill is taught to mastery. Afterward, the skills are combined into a larger context where different skills are utilized across settings, resulting in generalized fluency.” (See

Direct Instruction programs are designed for typically developing children. However, I found them to be so powerful that I was able to use them to teach my severely autistic and profoundly nonverbal son. He learned reading, math, spelling and language with these programs.

The Letter

Dear Commission Members;

The purpose of this email is to ask respectfully for your support for including Direct Instruction curricula for use within the state.

Please listen to my story and you will see why families in this state need access to Direct Instruction curricula.

My story:  I am the mother of a teenage boy with severe autism who is also profoundly nonverbal; he had many difficult behaviors as a youngster including aggression and self-injury.  As you can imagine, he was not an easy kid to deal with, let alone teach academic skills.

Luckily for us, I found out about Direct Instruction. These scientifically-based, research-validated curricula allowed me (just a mom, not a specialist) to teach academic skills to this severely disabled child. He can read. He can write. He can spell. And he can do math. In fact, he can do math really well.

Let’s look at math in a little more detail. Right now we are working on the X-Y coordinate grid, adding and subtracting fractions, analyzing data tables, and doing complex word problems. I know for a fact that my son, with, let me repeat, severe autism and profoundly lack of language, has better math skills than many neuro-typical kids of his age. He knows his math facts to fluent levels, he has no hesitation in tackling problems and he really, really loves math! It is his favorite subject.

Why families in this state need Direct Instruction:  Unfortunately, most contemporary public education systems favor faddish, unscientific and trendy approaches to instruction. Children are expected to “discover” knowledge in their “own” way. As the depressing education statistics show, most kids don’t “discover” how to do math, read, spell, write or understand complex concepts without instruction. The research consistently points out that structured, systematic direct instruction with strong guidance from the teacher provides the best learning outcome.  Families who send their kids to school want their kids to learn; they don’t want their kids to fail.  Yet this state is in the bottom half of student achievement.

We need choices

Give families a choice. Let families have the option of getting scientifically-based, research-validated programs in their schools to teach their kids. Right now, they have no choice. If Direct Instruction can teach my child, it can teach any child.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.



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Martha Gabler

Autism parent. Director, Kids' Learning Workshop LLC. Author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism.

2 thoughts to “Direct Instruction: It even works for kids with autism”

  1. Hi, do you know where I could find a DI program in Staten Island, NY or the surrounding areas for my 13 year old child with autism. His IQ is low normal, but he cannot read for understanding. Thank you.

    1. Hello Lillian, Thanks for visiting my blog. In response to your question about finding a DI tutor in Staten Island, my recommendation would be to contact Fit Learning in the New York City area at Go to the ABOUT tab and click on TEAMS; scroll down until you get to the NY team, and then contact Dr. Kimberly Nix Berens. This is an organization that uses Direct Instruction as well as a scientifically based method known as Precision Teaching.

      If you are on Facebook, you could go to the page of the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) and post a query there. You could also contact NIFDI directly at

      Another option may be long-distance coaching or tutoring. If so, please contact Michael Maloney at The Maloney Method, He trains parents, teachers, and students with Direct Instruction and also Precision Teaching. He is a very dedicated and experienced teacher and will be very happy to help you.

      Sorry for the delay in responding; I was unaware that comments had come in.

      Best wishes,

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