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When educating a student with severe to moderate disabilities, the focus often shifts to the behavior of the student, rather than the teaching of basic academic skills, such as reading. Due to the severity or frequency of maladaptive behaviors, much time can be spent implementing programs and interventions aimed at decreasing the maladaptive behaviors to allow the student to be “ready to learn”. Oftentimes, these types of behaviors indicate a need or attempt at communication. Given that the student does not have the skills required to communicate, the behavior functions as a means to get the point across, albeit ineffective. It may be thought that until the student is able to self-manage, that he is unable to learn to read. However, learning to read is possible and does impact the student in a variety of ways, such as increasing vocabulary, providing a means of expression of wants, needs, and thoughts, as well as, a leisure skill that can be used for enjoyment.
Students with severe to moderate disabilities are able to learn to read. There are a multitude of reading programs, technological applications, and books available that are aimed at teaching this particular population how to read. Combining these available modalities increases the opportunity for the student to gain the knowledge and skill required to read independently. For instance, using an application on an iPad to identify letters and their sounds could be combined with examples of letters in the classroom environment that provide additional visual representation of the letters, as well as, opportunities to practice the sounds, outside of the application. Some popular examples of applications and online tools can be found on www.abcmouse.com and www.starfall.com. Applications for the iPad such as Bob Books, Elmo Loves ABCs, and Starfall Learn to Read provide additional resources. It is important to remember that the developmental level of the child should be considered when choosing these programs, as information that is too advanced may cause frustration rather than fun and learning. It is important to provide the foundation before leaping ahead.
When a student is able to recognize pictures, letters, words, and sentences, they are able to increase their vocabulary and self expression. Using technology, such as applications, computer programs, online activities, and SMART Boards, is a great way to increase vocabulary. The student is able to see and hear the information, which is appealing to visual and auditory learners, and they are able to interact and gain immediate feedback. This is essential to providing reinforcement in a quick, direct manner that encourages continued engagement and growth.
Students are then able to take vocabulary that has been learned from these technological resources and put it to use in their daily lives. One way that the student is able to use this vocabulary is to communicate. If a student learns to identify pictures and put meaning with them, then they could use that picture to indicate that it is a picture of something they want or something they want to do. Once they can put meaning to the pictures, they can learn that the pictures have words to describe them. These types of words become useful to the student in writing, typing, reading, or saying what they like or want or just to have a conversation with someone about something they want to talk about. This increases communication beyond meeting needs and allows for sharing and conversation.
Applications and SMART Board activities, as well as online and computer games, make learning vocabulary and reading fun and engaging. Students are able to interact with the technology and increase their skill level. They do not necessarily see or understand the effort they are putting into the game as work because of their level of enjoyment. However, the payoff is evident when the student’s skills in reading increase and the change translates into not only better academic performance, but improved functioning overall.