Four way to build literacy skills at home 

By Linda Bonnar-Ivery, MA, CCC-SLP, ATP

Director of Communication Pathways, Pine Tree Society

For children of all abilities, literacy is a tool of personal empowerment, a means of social development and a form of expression.  Children with disabilities that impact verbal communication, like autism and intellectual disabilities, have as much need for literacy as typically developing children.  Yet it can be a challenge to find ways to engage kids who are non-verbal in literacy activities.

Like any child, a child who is non-verbal is not going to learn to read if they are never given the chance.  Children who are verbal learn to read and write by sounding things out, mostly out loud. Children who are nonverbal do not have that same opportunity, so helping them develop their inner voice so that they can work on these types of skills is very important.  Consistent exposure to literacy is critical in building this skill.

There really aren’t any prerequisites to learning how to read and write.  Some learning assessments for children with autism place reading and writing last, favoring a skill building process where other foundations are developed first.  I agree that there are some critical skills that may need to be the main focus of a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), however, overall exposure and providing experiences in literacy is easy and powerful to include at any point.

Here are four things you can do at home:

1. Read to your child

There is no better way to introduce a child to words, fluency, and sequencing than to read to them daily.

2. Repurpose a favorite repetitive book

Taking books like “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” or “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?” and adapting them by using the child’s name instead is a great way to build literacy.  For example: “John, John what do you see? I see a flower looking at me. Flower, flower, what do you see? I see green grass looking at me.”

3. Use familiar signs and logos

Every day, children see signs, logos, symbols and words that they recognize without being able to read them. For example, most children recognize that the Golden Arches means McDonald’s is nearby or that the red octagon on the street corner is a stop sign.  Create your own story together about favorite places and signs in your community.

4. Play with letters

Using a few sets of magnetic letters and an inexpensive cookie sheet can lead to loads of literacy fun. There are so many games, word building and phonemic awareness games that can be played with these.

Building speech and language skills can help support literacy development.  To find out how Pine Tree Society can support your child and family through telepractice services, please email or call 207-386-5931.

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