Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Getting kids with special needs into reading: 5 great tips

At bedtime, Max has been reading Ben one of his all-time favorite books: My Car, by Byron Barton. Last night, Max told me it's Ben's favorite book, too. It's cute central. And of course, I'm super-proud of Max's reading skills; they're coming along. I read more advanced books to him but he's able to read early elementary school books to me, and now he has a new audience.

For a long time, Max didn't have the attention span for books. He started caring more when he developed obsessions—purple, spaghetti, car washes, Lightning McQueen, fire trucks/firefighters—and I found relevant books. (Pray that your child never likes Lightning McQueen because those were some of the most boring books in the history of books.)

Some new inspiration for parents: My friends Amy Mascott, a reading specialist and creator of Teach Mama, and Allison McDonald, a preschool teacher who founded No Time For Flash Cards, have a book out, Raising A Rock-Star Reader. It's packed with quick tips for helping kids develop early reading and writing skills, and a love of reading. It's not specific to kids with special needs, but there's lots of advice that's helpful for kids of all abilities.

Some of my favorite tips:

Bring books to life. 

Make reading fun and it'll spark a kid's interest. You can throw a birthday party with a favorite book as the theme (find ideas on Pinterest), give book-themed gifts, decorate a room with a theme from a book or simply make up stories about a child's favorite character.

Play "I spy" to help kids learn letters.

You want kids to see that letters are everywhere, and once they learn them and can read words, they'll find messages everywhere. So regularly play a game: Ask them to look around for specific letters—say, at the grocery store or on a menu. They can search for a stick in the park in the shape of a letter. You can also add a challenge; for example, find the most beautiful letter "B" on a road sign.

Have a dedicated place for bedtime books. 

It's a time saver, to be sure, but I've also found that it helps Max focus. Shelf upon shelf of books is overwhelming. (Same goes for toys.) We keep Max's current faves in a basket by his bed and rotate them in and out.

Help kids relate to the characters, events or ideas in the book.

As Amy and Allison say, "When readers are able to create a connection to a text, they're more likely to remember what they're reading and they often understand it at a deeper level." So bring up your own experiences, like why the grandma in the story reminds you of your own or that you know other kids like the girl in Knuffle Bunnie who are attached to their stuffed animals.

Ask questions.

Asking your child about what they are reading is key to helping kids become stronger readers. Some good starters:

• I wonder why...
• When will they...
• Who will help the...
• What will they do if...
• Why did they decide to...

Note Allison and Amy, "You may be surprised at how insightful and thoughtful your child can be." Amen!

 Raising a Rock Star Reader


  1. I'm glad Max is enjoying reading. I love to read. A baby is a very non judgmental audience. So is a therapy dog who often goes to libraries. My dog is one so shameless plug for the awesomeness of therapy dogs. :)

  2. Another Note: Drop all obsessions with literary merit. Fixation on the classics is the fastest way to discourage reading.

    1. Ha! I didn't like the classics so much when I was forced to read them, but when I've gone back and read some as an adult I liked most of them (excluding Moby Dick).

  3. Being read to is definitely part of the mix. For a year or so in my early childhood, my father would sit on the toilet seat and read to me from a series of YA style novels while I took my baths. It was a really important bonding time, and the first lengthy novels I ever read to myself were those exact same books. On a different tack, I wonder what people's thoughts are about audiobooks, especially for older kids who turn out to have very hard-wired learning disabilities that make reading impossible or an unavoidably painful chore? With audiobooks, you can still pick up the passion for literature, storytelling, and learning, by bypassing the actual decoding process.

    1. I think they are fine. Given I'm only a teenager but still. I have memories of listening to books on tape in a cassette player as a little kid. My mom read to us a lot. I have a friend who has a genetic eye disorder and needs big print or audiobooks. She told me that she is able to use Learning Ally to access audiobooks. You need either a learning disability diagnosis or a low vision/ legally blind diagnosis.

    2. Andrew, your father sounds amazing. You know, I haven't considered trying audiobooks with Max but now that his attention span has gotten so much better I'm going to. Many thanks for bringing that up.

  4. I highly recommend audiobooks - there are some fantastic actors doing the narration and these books are real pleasure to listen to although they tend to be quite expensive so borrowing from a public library is probably best. I work as a children's librarian and promote audiobooks in the same way as the print versions of great books - I focus on the story and the characters and the plot and they can get all that from listening to the book right? Kids who struggle with print on the page should still get to experience the stories and audiobooks do that for them. They can all hopefully learn to read well enough to do other academic and life skills things but audiobooks are a pleasure for them and grows their brains and hearts in the exact same way as reading ink on a page. All the Harry Potter audiobooks are great - my kids and I have them virtually memorized, not even kidding.


Thanks for sharing!

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