For the longest time I remember, I have never said ‘No’ to a book that my son had asked to buy. I had introduced him to books way too early and I could see the results soon. Buying books has always been a joy for me. I might be sceptical about other things but a book would always find its way in my house. When my daughter was born with Down syndrome, I didn’t know if this would hold true for her. I was new to the world of disability and didn’t have many examples of great readers within the local community. I also met a lot of people who thought academics and reading are not really that important for our children and we should focus on life skills instead.
The parents who thought that our children would not be able to read and it was better to focus our energies elsewhere were not entirely wrong in their interpretation because the kind of schooling most of us had made us believe that there is only one way to read and that is hierarchical. It means one skill should be mastered before learning the next skill ( e.g., a child must be expected to learn the names of the letters in the alphabet in the correct order before being taught how to read his or her name). This style of teaching made it difficult for children to master early skills and as a result did not advance to more advanced literacy instruction and often continued to receive age-inappropriate instruction (e.g., singing the alphabet song) – Wikipedia
Those were troubling times because as a reader myself I knew I would be depriving my daughter of all the good things that come in the shape of books and I was not ready to do that.
After a lot of research, I got to know some strategies that were being used to teach special needs children around the world and the research happening on it. Initially I was overwhelmed, there were so many different methodologies and varied information available that I had to tread carefully. After following it all up for a while I looked up for people who were credible and had years of experience like ‘ Sue Buckley’ ‘Natalie Hale’ NACD and other DS education associations who were researching in this field. I read about well researched ways of teaching, ways to increase concentration, retention and other important things to get me started. I realised that the secret was not in buying as many books as I could. The secret was in understanding what will work best for my child. I met a few parents and therapists who told me flash cards wouldn’t work or it was too early to start but I wanted to give it a shot with all the faith I had in the things that I had researched for and the effort I was going to put into it. It was important to be consistent, creative and individualistic and I tried to be just that.
Natalie Hale’s blog ‘special reads’ helped me immensely. I started by making some flash cards, personal books and modifying other available books for Aarshia. I followed her advice to the tee. I did all of this while she was still in her play school and the results were astonishing! In three months she was reading better than most of her peers in play school and the teachers were super impressed. I used the mix of sight words, phonics, personal books and mixed it with the things she was interested in and it all worked well for her.
At that time I thought of only one thing, the more she would read, the better she will become. It was as simple as that. The more enjoyable the things she would read, the more she’ll stick with them and develop the reading skills that will be needed in her adult life. Reading needed to be pleasurable over everything else and I tried to follow that.
Every time I read aloud a story to her, I knew she wasn’t really comprehending. She couldn’t think in abstract and is still not very good at it but I knew for sure that even when she wasn’t understanding every new word, she was absorbing something from the context that was deepening her understanding of it the next time the word would be encountered.
Today, when I see her taking a book every day to the school and when her teacher tells me that she loves to read I feel proud of her because reading has given her immense confidence. I still remember the first book she ever read in her class and the amount of self belief it gave her .
Those who believe that reading is not a life skill should know that reading doesn’t work in isolation. It helps improve speech , communication, comprehension and most importantly imagination. Of course it varies from child to child but every child is trainable irrespective of the age.
So by all means read and equip your child with special needs to do the same. Nurture this in your children. Make the most of all the resources that are available and waiting for you: printed books, online books, flash cards, personal books, modified books. If one thing doesn’t work ( which most likely would happen) look for something else and keep looking, keep exploring till you get what is best suited for your child because as you help your child appreciate the magic of reading, you are giving him a friend for life and trust me your child is going to need one ! Happy Reading.