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Teaching Literacy to Students with Severe Disabilities

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  • 0:00 Literacy Instruction for All
  • 0:29 Addressing the…
  • 3:30 Targeting Literacy Needs
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

It can be challenging to plan instruction that meets the needs of students with severe disabilities. This lesson is designed to jump start your thinking about how to teach literacy to students with severe disabilities.

Literacy Instruction for All

Students with severe disabilities are often significantly behind their same-age peers when it comes to literacy. Since education law requires that all students have access to a general education curriculum, how do you teach literacy to students with significant challenges? Due to the wide variety of needs that can accompany severe disabilities, there is no universal formula. However, let's explore some possibilities and principles.

Addressing the Literacy Curriculum

There are three options for providing severely disabled students with access to a literacy curriculum. These include accommodations at the grade level, access skills, and curricular entry points.

Let's first take a look at accommodations at the grade level. A student who is diagnosed with severe disabilities but who is able to address a literacy curriculum at his or her grade level will need significant accommodations. Some possible accommodations are:

  • Specialized equipment for positioning, such as seating and mobility
  • Amplification devices for hearing-impaired students
  • Communication devices
  • Specialized computer programs, such as speech-to-text software
  • Alternative materials, such as Braille for visually impaired students
  • Alternative methods to demonstrate knowledge for non-verbal students
  • Modified schedule and delivery of instruction for medically fragile students

Literacy instruction using multiple accommodations, like the ones we just looked at, can look very different than instruction that takes place in a general education classroom. As long as accommodations don't alter the content of the curriculum, a severely disabled student is addressing the curriculum at grade level.

Now let's look at access skills. Many students with severe disabilities are unable to master a grade-level literacy curriculum. As such, a small number must address the coursework through access skills. Access skills are communication, motor, or behavioral goals that a student must master in order to gain access to curricular content.

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