Language experiences helps students develop the understanding of
reading and writing. A constructivist approach to teaching reading to
students whom are severely learning disabled has been shown to help
students. Teaching reading to students with disabilities can be a
difficult task and when the student has a severe disability, it is more
challenging. Students labeled as severely learning disabled are usually
placed in self contained classrooms, where the students are isolated
from other students and activities in which they should be engaging in.
Research shows that mainstreaming the severely learning disabled student
into a regular classroom improves their performance. This article
examines students with severe reading disabilities and ways to help
remediate this concern.
Learning to read for students with severe learning disabilities can
be very challenging and extremely discouraging. Typical reading problems
that students with severe learning disabilities include: not being able
to discriminate letters or produce letter sounds to having moderate to
severe reversal problems in writing letters and numbers beyond the
school norm. Some have difficulties in blending letter sounds, while
others could identify letters but have no concept of words (Ward 2005).
Seeing that these kinds of students have an extreme disability in
understanding print, they therefore have no interest in literacy
Language experiences helps students develop the understanding of
reading and writing. This approach helps students develop confidence in
their connection to reading and motivates them to challenge themselves
to reading texts. Even though reading requires phonemic awareness,
skills that severely learning disabled students don't have, those
skills can be developed through the use of students language
A constructivist approach to teaching reading to students whom are
severely learning disabled has been shown to help students. Helping
students to remember words in which they can't remember by seeing,
using pictures is a good teaching technique to use to help students to
learn to read. Using "sight words" also helps students to read
Students labeled as severely learning disabled are usually placed
in self contained classrooms, where the students are isolated from other
students and activities in which they should be engaging in. What
teachers don't realize that this does more harm than good. Research
shows that by mainstreaming the severely learning disabled student into
a regular classroom improves their performance in all forms of literacy
because (1) they are with less severe disabilities and disabled peers,
(2) higher performance expectations of teachers, (3) use of daily
routines as instructional opportunities and (4) encouragement of the use
of skills in meaningful, constructive ways (Gately, 2007). In order for
this technique to be successful, teachers are the ones who play the
biggest role. The teachers of the students with severe disabilities need
to embrace the fact that children are active, constructive learners and
everyone has the ability to learn, learning disabled or not.
Another challenge a teacher may run into in the classroom may not
be with a severely learning disabled student, but rather a severely
autistic student. Teaching children with autism is a challenging
experience. These children often can't speak, which means they
can't communicate their feelings or tell you when they're
feeling a specific way. You may not know when they're learning or
even if they're learning. Autistic children have a very unique set
of challenges that requires a parent or teacher to have a lot of
patience. Sometimes they can be very cooperative, but for the most part,
autistic children have significant problems with attention span, lack
any type of motivation to learn to read, and have problems with figuring
out the rules of reading and grammar when compared to children who do
not have autism. Like students with severe learning disabilities, severe
autistic children learn in pictures as well. They better relate words to
pictures, then just using words in general. When teaching the severely
autistic student to read, it may be difficult for the educator to know
that they are learning as they don't have good communication
skills. If the child is able to match the printed word to the correct
picture, object, or person, he or she has both recognized the word and
comprehends its meaning (Broun, 2004). Reading to the child on a regular
bases and choosing books a couple years below their level will help the
student to better comprehend the context in which the reading is about.
Teaching reading to students with disabilities can be a difficult
task, when the student has a severe disability, it is more challenging.
The articles being reviewed involve students with severe reading
disabilities, severe dyslexia, and severe autism.
Denton (2006) examined 27 students with severe reading difficulties
and disabilities over a 16- week intervention. The two types of
intervention were decoding and fluency. The decoding intervention was
based on the Phono-Graphix program and was conducted 2 hours per day for
8 weeks. The fluency intervention was based on the Read Naturally
program and was conducted 1 hour of daily instruction for 8 weeks. After
16 weeks, there was significant improvement in reading decoding,
fluency, and comprehension, and 12 of the 27 students showed a
significant response to these interventions. The result demonstrated
that even students with persistent, severe reading difficulties can
benefit from intensive reading intervention.
A case study conducted by Cooke (2002) focused on a student who has
severe dyslexia and entered college with no reading and writing skills.
The student could only recognize few words, had difficulty with spelling
simple words, and had poor handwriting. The student started the process
of learning to read just like younger children do and followed a
structured phonic progression, including onset and time. The aim was to
develop the phonemic and phonological skills through word writing.
Exercises and drills were used to gain that automatic response.
Handwriting was introduced to the student when she decided to overcome
it. The student began to master whole word pronunciation and was able to
read simple sentences.
Children with severe disabilities have a hard time learning how to
read, but there are ways that teachers can help them. One way of helping
them is getting non-readers to use symbols to recognize words. The
effective use of symbols in recognizing words was compared to just the
word alone recognition. The children had a much easier time recognizing
the word with a picture then they did just seeing a word and being able
to say it. Figure three in the article shows the number of words
recognized at each session. There are three different bars being
Many researchers attempted to find remediation techniques and ways
to prevent severe reading disabilities. Results indicated that students
in the phonological awareness and synthetic phonics group had the most
improvement over a two and a half year period. Basil and Reyes (2003)
stated, "Many students with autism, intellectual impairment, and
multiple impairments experience difficulties in acquiring literacy
skills. An intervention program based on the multimedia software Delta
Messages and a scaffolding approach was used with severely disabled
children. They showed significant gains in sentence production through a
whole-word selection strategy, which was targeted in the program, and in
the ability to synthesis and spell words, tasks that were not targeted
in the reading instruction. This suggests that massed practice of
self-initiated and meaningful literacy activities can promote the
acquisition of literacy by students with severe disabilities and limited
written language skills".
According to Blischak, Shah, Lombardino, and Chiarella (2004),
children need to be able to read and write to not only communicate but
to be accepted socially and to succeed in life. In their study, they
focused on the effects of phonemic awareness instruction on children
with severe speech impairments (SSI). Phonemic awareness is the ability
to be aware of the sound structure of language and allows readers to
manipulate phonemes. Children with SSI often use phonemic awareness
skills to decode words but not to spell them. The results of the study
showed that instruction in phoneme-grapheme correspondence and phonemic
segmentation and manipulation can increase the encoding skills of
children with SSI. The study further showed that methods used to help
children without SSI develop encoding skills could help children with
SSI as well.
Coleman-Martin, Heller, Cihak, and Irvine (2005) also focused on
students with severe speech impairments as well as students with autism.
Focus was placed on these disabilities because they are especially at
risk of academic failure due to their lack of speech skills. Because
these students cannot speak, they need to learn to internally speak
phonological codes to decode and encode words. This has motivated the
participants to learn because they were required to use a computer, but
also allowed them to learn target words with repetitive practice.
Devault and Joseph (2004) focused their study on high school
students with severe reading delays. They emphasized that one of the
most important goals of reading instruction is helping students to
identify words effortlessly because without this skill they will read
too slowly to comprehend a text. Two methods to help students identify
words effortlessly are repeated readings and word boxes. Repeated
readings can help with fluency and comprehension, while word boxes, a
technique used in reading recovery, can help children make letter-sound
correspondences and help them identify letter-sound sequence patterns.
With word boxes, a rectangle drawn on paper is divided into sections
according to the number of sounds in a word. As the child speaks sounds,
they push letters into the appropriate sections. Both techniques have
had success with elementary level students, but neither has been used
with high school students to increase their reading abilities.
Basil, C., & Reyes, S. (2003). Acquisition of Literacy Skills
by Children with Severe Disability. Child Language Teaching and a
Therapy. 19(1), 27-48.
Blischak, D. M., Shah, S. D., Lombardino, L. J., & Chiarella,
K. (2004). Effects of phonemic awareness instruction on encoding skills
of children with severe speech impairment. Disability and
Rehabilitation, 26(21/), 1295-1304.
Broun, Leslie T. (2004) Teaching Students with Autistic Spectrum
Disorders to Read. A Visual Approach. Vol. 36, No 4
Coleman-Martin, M. B., Heller, K. W., Cihak, D. F., & Irvine,
K. L. (2005). Using computer-assisted instruction and the nonverbal
reading approach to teach word identification. Focus on Autism &
Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(2), 80-90.
Cooke, A. (2002). Case Study: A Virtual Non-Reader Achieves a
Degree. Dyslexia (10769242), 8(2), 102-115.
Denton, C., Fletcher, J., Anthony, J., & Frances, D. (2006). An
Evaluation of Intensive Intervention for Students with Persistent
Reading Difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(5), 447-466.
Devault, R., & Joseph, L. M. (2004). Repeated readings combined
with word boxes phonics technique increases fluency levels of high
school students with severe reading delays. Preventing School Failure,
Gately, S. E. (2007) Teaching Students with Severe Disabilities to
Read: The need for Reconciling Constructivism, 3(1),1
Ward, H. C. (2005) The use of Language Experiences in Teaching
Reading to Students with Severe Learning Disabilities. 5, (1), 225-227.
PETER A. COWDEN, PH.D.