One of the Biggest Gifts You Can Give a Child with Different Abilities is FREE
By Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm, EdD
Many parents of children with different abilities can become overwhelmed when trying to meet their daily basic needs. There never seem to be enough hours in a day especially when you add in the time needed to teach self-help skills, coordinate physical, occupational, and speech therapy, monitor medication, manage socialization needs, provide constant supervision, and so on. The list of duties can seem endless at times.
Turns out, one of the biggest gifts you can give your child with different abilities is absolutely “free.” It simply involves grabbing a book and reading with or to them.
Not all children with different abilities struggle with reading. Some excel at it. Regardless, every student, even non-verbal students, can benefit from practicing reading or being read to by someone else.
Become a model for reading Children, both disabled and non-disabled, tend to model what they see. Watching you read a book for your entertainment or pleasure allows them to witness the benefit of reading personally. When reading with or to a child, you are modeling so many book-handling skills. A child can learn ways to hold an e-reader, how to turn pages, how to properly care for a book, how bookmarks can be utilized, etc. These skills can be generalized from home to their classroom or community.
Make reading easy and fun Find a time during the day when you and your child simply relax and enjoy a book together. Lay a blanket on the floor, sit on the sofa together, or hang out in your child’s bedroom. Bring a snack or drink with you. Take a break if necessary. Use funny or animated voices for characters to hold interest. Point out things you notice about any illustrations and ask questions about what happens in the book and your child’s thoughts. This is a great way to bond and enjoy personal time with a child.
Don’t constantly correct If the child begins to read aloud and makes errors, don’t feel the constant need to correct them. Children repeatedly corrected when reading quickly become frustrated or discouraged and will want to end the reading activity. Instead, simply model the correct pronunciation if it is your turn to read aloud. They will begin to pick up on the proper way to pronounce a word without being interrupted.
Let your child select the book Don’t force books or topics on your child that they don’t enjoy. Rather, involve your child in the selection process. Consider their interests and allow them to center those interests on the books they want to read with you. You may be surprised at the topics they find compelling.
Enjoy the public library Money can be tight for many families these days. However, books are available for free at libraries. Take your child with different abilities on a trip to your local library. Show them how to sign up for their own library card and carry it in their purse or wallet. Many parents these days seem to forget public libraries exist; their children have become so engrossed in technology. However, I have found that the employees at most local libraries are very accepting and open to having children with disabilities visit. They can help them find books of interest or resources they may need for school projects.
Don’t use reading as a form of punishment When disciplining your child for misbehavior, do not use reading as a form of punishment. Telling a child they must sit in the corner until they have read ten pages may send the “wrong” idea to the child about what reading is all about. If they are taught to view reading as a negative consequence, they will be less likely to seek it out independently.
Plan your reading around your community outings If you are planning an upcoming outing with your child with a disability, try to center your reading topics on the excursion. If your day involves going to the zoo, you may want to read about different animals. If you are planning a trip to the bakery, perhaps you should read about cookies and cupcakes. Maybe your child has a favorite superhero, and you are planning a trip to the movie theatre. Find a book about Spiderman, Superman, for example, to share before the trip!
Utilize recipe reading Many parents forget that recipe reading is an essential life skill. It will assist the child with developing a level of independence as they mature. The greatest thing about recipe reading is that it includes practicing reading skills AND includes EATING your creation!
Start a book club Have your child with special needs consider starting a book club. It could involve their friends at school or in the neighborhood and new faces, which can help widen their circle of friends and advance their social skills. Consider hosting a book club meeting at your home. Providing a few snacks and a fun environment will go a long way to assisting your child in spending quality time with their peers.
Teach independence Many parents who read to their children enjoy the activity and bonding time. However, don’t be surprised if, after a while, your child doesn’t want to read with you anymore. You may notice they are reading on their own and not being prompted to do so. Some parents, upon seeing this, will experience a sense of loss. Don’t be discouraged—pat yourself on the back for a job well done! Your child has found their own enjoyment in reading and developed a level of independence. Celebrate your success!
Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm works with students with disabilities in the Northwest Arctic. He recently retired as an Assistant Director of Special Education for a public school district. He is also an Associate Faculty Member with the University of Phoenix and a Special Graduate Faculty member at the University of Kansas. He has bachelor-level degrees in English and Special Education. He holds master-level degrees in Counseling, Special Education, and School Administration. His doctorate degree is from Northern Arizona University in Educational Leadership. His postgraduate degrees are in Positive Behavior Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders. He has worked for the past 38 years with students between the ages of three and 21 with disabilities and various medical needs in both school and community-based settings.