Begin with a one sentence story (or one easy-to-understand sentence from a story you are reading to the class). Say the sentence out loud and ask, “What happened in the story?” or “Tell me what you remember from the story.”
Initially, I wrote the sentence on the board as I was reading it out loud. I asked the one of the questions above, and accepted the student’s answer that was just reading the sentence off of the board. I then said, “Yes, that’s what happened in the story. Good job!” I wanted to the student to understand what I meant when I asked him, “What happened in the story?” At first, before writing the sentence on the board as a visual cue, many students just repeatedly said, “I don’t know” in response to the question. Not only is narration difficult for many children with autism because it is so auditory, but it may be that the students did not know what it means when someone asks, “Tell me what happened in the story.”
Once mastery of this step was achieved, I chose a very short story (one of Aesop’s Fables) and read it to the student one line at a time, and let him look at the book as I was reading. I then asked the same questions, making sure that the student could see the sentence that I was asking about.
Later, I read one sentence of the story, and just write a few of the important words from the sentence on the board for the visual cue. Then, I gradually fade out the number of words that I write on the board, until the student is successful with just listening to the story. You could also use a small dry erase board so that you could do this during a group reading time.
Then, I increase the length of passage that the student must narrate to two sentences, then three, etc.
When using the above procedures, you may also want to consider using pictures to assess comprehension. After a student has narrated to you, you could show him or her a field of two or three pictures and ask, “Which picture matches that story?” This way, you will know if the student is simply memorizing what you have said, or if he or she also understands what you have said.
Another idea (particularly for students who cannot read) is to provide a picture from the story that the student can look at as a visual cue while narrating. This can be gradually faded out as well. To fade this out, you could begin to use a slightly less detailed picture (with a small part of the picture cut off or “whited out”), and gradually show less and less of a picture, until only one important feature is left in the picture. Once the student is successful with this, you could try it with no picture.
This all depends on the current verbal/language abilities of your students. As their parents or teachers, you know their capabilities in this area, and can make adjustments as needed.