Choosing Curriculum in the Autism Classroom

Let’s Talk Curriculum.

“Where’s the stuff?” I always laugh when I think back to Sasha telling the story of her first year teaching when she presented to our school district several years ago. She tells a story about looking around her classroom and realizing there was no curriculum for her students. She kept waiting for “the stuff “she needed to teach her students to arrive.

This situation is all too familiar to special education teachers. Finding curriculum that meets students needs is tough. Sometimes getting your hands on curriculum is just as tough! Ultimately, choosing curriculum in special education shouldn’t be viewed as a one size fits all approach. Rather our choice of curriculum should be driven by the learner. Here’s a quick review of a handful of the curriculums I use within my classroom that I find success with.



A Wilson Reading product, Fundations is made for younger learners in grades K-3 who are working on foundational and early reading skills. This multi-sensory, systematic approach works well with students who need systematic repetition to learn phonological skills. Letter, keyword, and sound (sound drills) are used daily. Sight words are called trick words and students tap them out with their fingers as students chop the words.

SRA Reading Mastery

Another systematic approach to their three strands: reading, literature, and language arts. Strands can be used together or apart. The reading strand covers phonemic awareness, phonics and word analysis, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. SRA reading is a spiral curriculum, meaning core concepts are revisited throughout the curriculum. This allows for core concepts to continually be reinforced during instruction.

Choosing Curriculum in the Autism Classroom


Sightword based curriculum that uses errorless learning techniques, positive reinforcement, and other ABA based principles. Specifically recommended for students with Autism, Edmark teaches sight words (all recall, no phonemic awareness) quickly and students tend to experience high success rates quickly. Comprehension is taught in a variety of methods including phrase and picture match and stories with WH question comprehension.

Heggerty Phonemic Awareness

These short, easy to implement lessons take no more than 10-12 minutes and can easily be incorporated into calendar or morning meeting. Focusing on creating phonemic proficiency, Heggerty lessons aim to teach students to isolate, blend, segment, and manipulate individual sounds in words. Lessons are designed for whole group, but could easily be implemented individually. Hand motions (showing pulling apart sounds, combining sounds, etc) can be a struggle for students with gross and fine motor issues, but are not necessary for success.


Handwriting Without Tears

A multi-sensory approach that uses a specific approach to teaching letter formation, using developmentally appropriate strategies. Workbooks are easy to follow, cueing students where to start with formation of letters, then fading the prompts as they write more. Handwriting proficiency is easily assessed using the HWT assessment. From pre-writing to cursive, HWT has something for every writer, 


Touch Math

A unique way to teach counting, addition, subtraction and more, touch math uses touch points to help students with these skills. Each number has corresponding touch points allowing students to use the touch points when counting or working with numbers. This concrete approach engages students on auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic levels. Touch math moves students from concrete skills to representational skills to abstract skills. 


SRA Connecting Math Concepts

Similar to SRA Reading, SRA Math is also a spiral based curriculum, repeating core concepts and ideas throughout lessons as students progress. Using a systematic approach to counting, addition, and subtraction, students are able to generalize skills quickly, Constant progress monitoring allows teachers to easily understand where students are struggling and re-teaching lessons for missed concepts are included in each unit. 

Personal Experience and Thoughts Using These Curriculums:

  • Edmark should be paired with another reading curriculum. Edmark is recall, not decoding. Readers decode. Our students should have the opportunity to be readers. While you may show some quick success with Edmark, make sure you are teaching your student to decode as well. This often means a second curriculum. Edmark can provide some amazing functional skills with comprehension and recall while students are building phonemic awareness through other curriculum.
  • If student’s can’t follow two step directions, Heggerty isn’t the best choice I love Heggerty because it’s quick and easy for anyone to implement, but we are verbally asking students to segment and manipulate sounds quickly in these lessons. Verbal comprehension and two step directions should be acquired before attempting.  
  • Touch math only works if you plan on how to fade touch points. This is my biggest pet peeve with this curriculum.
  • SRA math teaches addition and subtraction in a way that is easily generalized. 
  • HWT workbook pages make great independent tasks after students are taught letter formation.
  • Every student in my classroom takes the handwriting assessment at the beginning and end of each school year, even if they know how to form letters. It takes 3 minutes to give.
  • SRA reading and math are both scripted. This make lessons easy for assistants to teach. 
  • You may be tempted to skip ahead in ANY of these curriculums. Don’t. Commit to the process. 
  • Fundations moves slowly and is very repetitive. 
  • Heggerty needs to be paired with a reading curriculum, as it does not teach anything outside of phonemic awareness (ie: comprehension)


Choosing curriculum for your classroom can be tricky. You may find you have three different ELA curriculums and two different math curriculums going to best meet the needs of your students. And that’s perfectly fine! It might be crazy as you start to implement them all, but you’ll quickly find that many of these curriculums are low prep and many can be implemented with support staff under your guidance. By tailoring the curriculum used to meet the student’s learning needs, you set the student (and yourself!) up for success!


  1. Do you know of any reading curriculum that is specifically designed for nonverbal students? Most curricula require vocalizing and while this can be done with AAC, it can be a bit cumbersome to read sentences/passages aloud using AAC. Is there any program that doesn’t require any vocalizing but directly teaches kids to read in their heads?

    • Kayla, you have a great question. Edmark has instructions for non-verbal and pre-verbal students, including an optional sign language component built into it. However, I’d suggest working with your SLP to see you can come up with a plan for your specific learner. I really love when we move towards using the AAC to answer comprehension questions.

  2. Do you have a link for the touch math numbers? Thank you!


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