Day 23: Literacy

by | Tutorials

Whether we use technology or books, the fact remains that reading plays a huge role in our lives.  As parents, we want our children to succeed, so we ensure that they become literate students and adults.  After purchasing storybooks, we tend to look for flashcards and phonics supplements to get them there faster and better.

What is the best way to teach a disabled child to read?  Are flashcards and worksheets necessary?  Let this post get you started with literacy-based tips for your child.


literacy screenshot

Worksheets, flashcards, and other disconnected literacy activities can only confuse a child who already struggles with language. Be cautious of what you select from Pinterest for your disabled child.

Why reading may be a challenge for neurodiverse and disabled children

  • Children with cognitive delays may not comprehend that print contains a message.
  • Children with visual-motor delays may struggle with tracking print while reading.
  • Children with learning disabilities may have trouble identifying letters and words correctly.


Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for literacy

  • Model.  Read to yourself.  Read aloud.  Read the newspaper. Read a book.  Just read.  And, let your child see you do it.
  • Read to your child.  Share a book as often as you can.  Read in bed first thing in the morning, read after breakfast, read before bed.
  • Offer a rich selection of books.  I will be dedicating a post specifically on selecting books for a disabled child in this series.  In the meantime, look for books with simple images, repetitive rhythms and fabulous rhymes.  But, also read storybooks with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Leave the books out for your child to look through on his own as well as with you.

Books - Literacy

  • Allow your child to select the book tonight.  Even if your child cannot read, or speak, have your child point to the book he would like you to read.  Offer two choices, and watch his eyes.  Then, read it – even if it wasn’t your first choice.
  • Don’t kill the story.  As teacher-parents we have a tendency to want to test.  What color is this?  What sound does this animal make?  What shape is that?  Control your impulses, and just read the story – beginning to end.  Do this several times that week.  Let your child enjoy the story and internalize its message. You will have opportunities to “test” him in other ways at another time.
  • Chant rhymes and sing songs often.  Children learn language by engaging with it. Reading is no different.  In hearing the rhythm of songs and rhymes, children absorb them and begin to make connections with words and sounds and images.  Since rhymes are short and songs are fun, it’s probably the easiest thing you can do to expose your child to literacy.
songs and rhymes on rings - literacy

I keep laminated cards with songs and rhymes on a ring. It makes literacy portable, and durable!  It’s not meant for my son to read – it’s a memory aid for myself.

  • Allow your child to select the rhyme or song.  I like to print a few of our favorite rhymes for that month onto cards, and I laminate them.  I add a Velcro dot to the back and ask my son to select from two choices.  I’ll say, “Which song do you want?  Insy Winsy Spider, or 5 Little Leaves?”  And, my little guy, who is used to the PECS system, looks at both cards (as they each have a distinct image on them), and he pulls the card he wants.  Think about the communication system your child uses.  Does he sign?  Then, sign SPIDER while holding up a spider image, and LEAVES while holding up a leaf image.  Does he use other AAC?  Think about how you can incorporate choice of songs/ rhymes with whatever method your child communicates best.
File folder with rhymes and songs cards - literacy

I keep individual rhymes and songs on laminated cards and Velcro them to a file folder.

Rhyme cards - Literacy

Then, I select two for my little guy to choose from. These are Velcro-ed onto a Velcro strip which is then on stock card.

  • Read together.  If your child can speak, have him join you when you chant rhymes or read a repetitive phrase in a book (after several days of listening the same rhyme or story).  If your child uses signs, have him sign the main words.  If he uses PECS or technology, have a variety of the images from the book ready on cards/ app for him to point to or tap.  It’s important that he begins to participate in the reading in the way that he can.
  • Avoid flashcards and phonics worksheets.  Unless you are using the PECS cards, don’t introduce flashcards to your child until he understands the significance of letters and words.  Make the learning as concrete as possible – without resorting to worksheets.  Flashcards are card-stocked worksheets, so don’t be fooled by them.  Testing your child does nothing for his literacy skills, but will cause him to become anxious over time.  Make books together, act out the stories, use puppets, bring out the flannel board, etc. Even if you’re doing a lot of the prep work, your child gets to experience the books in meaningful ways.  Make the learning as close to real life as possible.
  • Read his name.  As a first true reading activity, have your child learn to read his name.  Write it on cards and place them in different places in the house.  When you find a card, say, “Oh, it says Billy!  Billy!”  Point to the word as you read it.  Over time, he will begin to pay attention to the letters and notice the first letter of his name to be particularly interesting.  Play around with this for a while to see how often your child recognizes his name.

 What are the challenges you are having with literacy?

This post tackles the beginning phases of literacy. If you’d like personalized strategies, we can sort through them together through a one-on-one consultation for parents or educators.


  1. Catherine

    My son will be seven next month & he is an emergent reader. Our biggest issues are tracking & comprehension.

    • Gabriella Volpe

      Comprehension is a common one. I highly suggest sticking to one book as your focus book for a couple of weeks – at least. This way, he’ll begin getting accustomed to the rhythms of the story and will begin to anticipate what comes next. By reading the same story over a span of a few weeks, it gives you the freedom to use his learning style/ dominant intelligence to help him to comprehend the story. By seeing the story acted out with puppets, or by hearing the story told in song, or by playing with the characters on a flannel board, he’ll begin to make connections.

      As for reading on his own, as an emergent reader, you’d need to focus on things like: Does he know the letters? Does he know what a word is? Does he recognize high-frequency words? Can he retell a story (even if in his own way, like with puppets)? In some cases, you can use the experiential learning (as described above), but at times, you will need to explicitly teach some reading strategies.

More Resources

Continue reading my essays, activities, and case studies for supporting the education of disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent children.