Fostering Independent Book Experiences For Children With Complex Needs

Have you ever walked in on a young child leafing through a book?  

It brings me so much joy whenever I see my daughter turning the pages of a favorite book.  Not only is she having fun, but I can see the wheels in her head turning.

Young children need independent reading experiences even if they aren’t actually “reading.”  Independent reading helps children learn:

  • that print conveys a message
  • how a book should be held
  • how to turn the pages from right to left
  • that letters are found in books
  • about topics they may not have directly experienced
What Does Independent Reading Look Like for a Child With Visual and Motor Deficits?  

Young children with complex needs tend to take on a passive role during early reading experiences. Typically, it’s the adult who holds the book, turns the pages, and reads the text aloud.  I know I am guilty of this as a speech-language pathologist!  

We need to provide children with complex needs to take on an active role during book exploration. How can we do this?

The Answer Is Modifications!

Here are some ways that we can modify books so that they are more accessible to children with complex needs:

  1. Modify the text
    • enlarge the text
    • simplify the text 
    • increase the visual contrast of the text against the background (e.g., bolded black print on yellow paper)
  2. Modify the pictures
    • depict only the main idea of each page
    • reduce visual clutter
  3. Modify the book
    • create sturdy pages (e.g., laminate)
    • thicken corners of each page to help with page turning
    • use a binding that allows for the pages to remain open when turned (e.g., comb plastic binding, book rings)
    • place book on a mount

These are pictures of a modified book I created for one of my clients.  I used enlarged text with simplified sentence structures using the repetitive line, “Look at my ___.”  I made sure that the text stood out visually by writing with a black marker on bright yellow paper.  Each page has a simple picture that depicts the main idea (e.g., “Look at my hat” has a picture of a hat). The pages are sturdy with a matte laminate and are bound with a comb plastic binding.  I thickened each corner by folding a small piece of foam paper and securing it with duct tape.

Next Steps

Now that you have an idea of how to modify books, start creating!  Eventually, you will have a library of modified books for your child.  Make sure that this library is accessible to your child by storing the books in a comfortable location where your child can reach them.  If your child is not mobile, make sure they have a way to request going to their library using their AAC system.  You can also build independent reading time into their daily schedule!

Be sure to check out our post on Emergent Writing and the use of Predictable Chart Writing here.

For more information, check out these sites:

Modifying Books for Students with Disabilities

Tarheel Reader

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