4 Ways to Make Reading Fun for Special Needs Kids

Activities like reading can do a lot to engage a child’s brain by stimulating their imagination, boosting their cognitive thinking, and critical problem-solving skills, as well as teaching them how to be empathetic or how to understand abstract ideas. Reading can be a challenge for parents of children with learning disabilities and other special needs, and the benefits of reading can be challenging as well. Like any kid with reading, or other activities, it helps to find out what works best for your child and what methods may help engage them to read, encourage them to improve their skills, and to get the most out of the experience overall.

Make it Interactive

Many kids with special needs, especially those on the spectrum, use their brains to understand the world around them in different ways. By stimulating more of your child’s senses in a more visual and tactile manner can help reading come alive for them and engage them in ways that just reading alone may not be able to. Alternatively, some kids respond more to certain types of stimulation than others, too. For instance, some kids may be audible learners and others may be visual learners. Try to appeal to what makes the most sense for them.

Certain activities can be more than just fun interactive things to do in addition to or in conjunction with reading, but they can help play to the particular strengths of kids with special needs. Provide a child with ADHD who learns best by moving by making a game out of it. For a child with Down Syndrome who loves imitating the world around them, recreate stories and scenes with stuffed animals or puppets for an audience of family members.

Find Common Ground

Many kids tend to fixate on certain topics, characters, or things whether they be a character from a cartoon or movie, a hobby like trains, or they may be hyper-focused on a particular subject like outer space. These interests can influence what kinds of toys and activities your child likes to seek out and enjoy, but it can also help you find books that might interest them too.  Identify what appeals to your child on other levels – what kind of toys or activities do they generally enjoy? What are their favorite shows and movies? Looking for books about these things or books that feature certain topics, events, or other features can be what draws your child into reading. If there is a book about something they like and already engage with, reading about it can be another thing they can enjoy as well.

Relevant Struggles

Kids with special needs may struggle with reaching milestones at certain ages, and reading may be one of them. Finding a book that helps kids with these struggles, whether it is a book that helps teach them to read or about a particular subject like potty training or riding a bike, will engage them in new and creative ways. Stories of another child going through the same struggle as them can make children feel empowered and less alone but also more inclined to reading. Reading is an essential life skill, but it can also open kids up to learning new things about the world around them, but most importantly themselves. Books about other topics, subjects and ideas can be helpful, but a book that resonates with your child on a more personal level may be the thing that really gets them hooked on reading or helps them feel more comfortable with themselves.

Finding Role Models

Kids with special needs may struggle with issues revolving around self-image and their own self-confidence, so in addition to finding books about similar struggles, you can also find books about famous people with learning disabilities and other handicaps. This can help kids realize that they can accomplish anything, too, and that their special need or disability does not limit them as much as other people may say they do. You can look for books about people like author, political activist, and lecturer Helen Keller (deaf and blind), Noble Prize-winning geneticist Carol Greider (learning disabilities), film director Steven Spielberg (ADHD), and animal scientist Temple Grandin (autistic spectrum disorder).

Difference Between a Developmental Lag and a Reading Disorder

Developmental Lag or Reading Disorder

What is the difference between spotting a developmental lag and a reading disorder? Both issues may look the same from observation, so ultimately, no matter what, it is always wise to see a specialist in the event this thought occurs to a parent at all.

Many parents would like to believe that their children are developing healthily and normally – who wouldn’t? Each individual is different and as kids become their own people, they will undoubtedly develop their own quirks and interests. If you notice that your child is not reading or shows no interest in the activity, your mind may initially make excuses along the lines of “maybe they’re just not a reader,” or “perhaps they learn a little slower and are more of a visual or hands-on learner.” Either of these may be true, certainly, but there is nothing wrong with doing a little bit of investigating first. Many parents who have children with reading disabilities find out a little too late, ‘a little too late’ meaning that their child’s education may have already suffered and that valuable time getting help has been lost.

Research shows that it is crucial that kids receive the proper developmental health during their first few years of schooling. This window of opportunity can be fleeting and many parents miss it because they are easily dissuaded from seeking help. If you notice that your child is having difficulties reading, the reason may absolutely be that they have a developmental lag or simply have no initial interest in the activity. However, it is always wise to be safe than sorry. It is better to be told that your child has a developmental lag by a professional early on in either case, because even if your child does not have a disorder, you can begin to implement healthy incentives to help them learn regardless. But if your child does have a reading disorder, the earlier they receive help the better.

The longer you wait to get help or guidance in the event that your child has a reading disorder, the harder it will be to get them on the right track. If treatment and therapy is implemented early, kids will adopt it much more easily and almost more naturally as well. Just as learning a language later in life becomes ultimately more difficult and forced, than learning one from an early age, so is learning how to cope with a reading disorder. It is still entirely possible to help children who are around the age of 7 or 8, but it becomes more and more difficult as the child gets older.

Reading disorders, such as dyslexia, are not exclusive to reading alone. Since reading is integral to learning, kids with reading problems will ultimately have issues learning other subjects as well and may fall behind substantially. The best way to quell any concerns that you may have regarding your child’s ability to or interest in reading is to see a specialist and to have your child tested. There should be no stigma involved, especially since you will be helping your child grow and learn.

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Difficulties with Reading

What boggles the minds of parents is why or where did the reading process for their child brake down. Many experts have identified reading problems to stem from either decoding, comprehension and retention with most believing that the bulk comes from decoding problems.

Decoding ~ Websters definition is the use of phonetics to decipher print patterns and translate them into the sounds of language.

In simpler terms the process of breaking down the phonemes of a word. For instance the average decoder can separate the sounds “tuh”, “aah”, “guh” for the word “tag.”

Someone who has difficulty in this area may not be able to break down and differentiate the word “tag” on the page. If you think about it, this is the process in which we all learned how to read words; by sounding them out.

Signs that your child has a decoding problem:
* Having trouble sounding out words
* Slow reading rate (takes time to sound out words)
* Ignoring punctuation when reading
* Confusion between letters and the sound they represent
* Reading without expression

Comprehension ~ in terms of reading comprehension it measures the understanding of a passage of text.

Comprehension relies heavily on decoding. Children who have difficulties with decoding will find it difficult to understand and remember what they have read. They spend most of their time trying to decode the words that when they are finished, they are not able to grasp the understanding of the passage making it very exhausting for them.

Signs of comprehension difficulties:
* Lack of concentration during reading
* Confusion about the meaning of words or sentences
* Not able to connect ideas in a passage

Lastly Retention ~ which requires the ability to retain facts and figures in memory. Retention requires the child to have both decoding and comprehension skills. Reading to learn and to retain by memory is critical in a child’s life and throughout their schooling years. It becomes an essential task and is expected of them through the education system.

Signs of retention difficulties:
trouble remembering or summarizing what is read
* Difficulty connecting what is read to prior knowledge
* Difficulty applying content of a text to personal experiences
* Trouble remembering or summarizing what is read

HOW TO GET HELP: Contact their school for a list of reading specialists that can help your child with their difficulty. Most schools have staff that are certified and can help your child during the school day. Do this ASAP.

If you need more help deciphering the process that is breaking down you can always contact the child’s school psychologist that would be able to access the problem areas and formulate a written plan for the child and give you more guidance.

If the child is not of school age spend more time in the areas of concern and seek professional help if applicable that way they will be at the level of their classmates when entering school.