FAQ about the Curriculum

Who would benefit from this curriculum?

This literacy curriculum is intended for learners with special needs, including children and adults with

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Developmental apraxia
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Other developmental disabilities

The curriculum is specifically designed for learners who have difficulty using speech to communicate.

These learners may benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). They may use many different means to communicate, including

  • Speech or speech approximations
  • Gestures
  • Signs
  • Communication boards with pictures
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Electronic speech generating devices (computers)


What skills are required of learners to participate in the curriculum?

 Learners may benefit most from the curriculum if they demonstrate the following skills:

  • Understand basic questions and instructions
  • Understand simple conversations about events outside the immediate environment
  • Recognize pictures
  • Communicate using speech approximations, signs, line drawings, or pictures
  • Demonstrate an interest in books, letters, or the computer keyboard
  • Have a reliable means to indicate a response
    • For example, pointing with a finger or fist, eye pointing, or listener assisted scanning


Why is it important to teach literacy skills?

 Learning to read and write:

  • Enhances cognitive development
  • Facilitates fuller participation at school
  • Increases employment opportunities
  • Supports the use of mainstream technologies
  • Facilitates social relationships
  • Fosters personal expression
  • Provides a meaningful and enjoyable leisure pursuit

For individuals with complex communication needs, learning to read and write also:

  • Provides a means to communicate more effectively
  • Has a profound impact on self-esteem
  • Has a positive impact on others’ perceptions or attitudes


Why do learners with complex communication needs often have poor literacy outcomes?

Historically many individuals with special needs have been excluded from literacy instruction.

Most of the literacy curricula that are used in the schools require learners to say words or letter sounds out loud.  Learners with complex communication needs have difficulty participating effectively in this type of instruction.

The literacy curriculum on this website has been adapted to accommodate the special needs of learners with complex communication needs.  Learners do not need to be able to say words or letter sounds out loud in order to participate.


What skills are targeted in instruction?

Learning to read is a complex process.

Instruction is required to teach students knowledge and skills in a variety of domains:

  • Language skills
    • Knowledge and skills in the form, content, and use of language
      • For example, knowledge and understanding of vocabulary, sentence structures, narratives and other types of writing
  • Phonological awareness skills
    • Ability to notice, think about, and manipulate the phonemes or sounds of words, including
      • Sound blending skills
        • The ability to build words by blending their component sounds
      • Phoneme segmentation skills
        • The ability to break words down into their individual sounds
  • Letter-sound correspondences
    • Knowledge of the relationship between sounds and letters:  that sounds are represented by each of the letters, and that the letters are used to represent different speech sounds
  • Decoding skills
    • Ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and sound blending skills to “sound out” regular words
  • Application of decoding
    • Ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and sound blending skills to “sound out” selected words during book reading with a literate partner
  • Recognition of sight words
    • Ability to recognize a word by looking at the letters without sounding it out
  • Reading and understanding simple texts
    • Ability to decode or recognize each word in sequence in the text, access the meaning of the words, process the words together in sequence to derive the full meaning of the text, and relate it to prior experience and knowledge

In addition to teaching these skills, parents, older siblings, teachers, and other professionals should regularly read to learners with special needs and discuss the books with them.


In what sequence are these skills taught?

Usually learners will be working on 2-4 skills at the same time.

  • In the early stages of instruction, learners will receive instruction in phonological awareness skills such as
    • sound blending
    • phoneme segmentation
    • letter-sound correspondences
  • As soon as learners are able to blend sounds and they have acquired 4-6 letter sound correspondences, they can move on to instruction in
    • decoding
    • sight word recognition
    • shared reading
    • new letter-sound correspondences
    • review of previously mastered skills


What instructional techniques are used to teach these skills?

This curriculum combines

  • direct instruction in basic skills, with
  • numerous opportunities to apply the skills during meaningful reading activities.

Instruction in basic skills follows these steps:

  • Model
    • The instructor demonstrates the skill for the learner.
  • Guided practice
    • The instructor provides scaffolding support or prompting to help the learner perform the skill successfully.
    • The instructor gradually fades the support as the learner develops competence.
  • Independent practice
    • The learner performs the skill independently.
    • The instructor monitors the learner’s performance and provides appropriate feedback for correct or incorrect responses.


What feedback is provided for the learner?

 The instructor monitors the learner’s responses and provides appropriate feedback.

  • If the learner is correct, the instructor
    • confirms the response
    • provides positive feedback
  • If the learner’s response is incorrect, the instructor
    • directs the learner’s attention to the error
    • models the correct response
    • provides guided practice to help the learner respond correctly
    • provides additional opportunities for the learner to practice the skill correctly


How is the curriculum adapted to maximize participation for learners with CCN?

The curriculum is based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel.

Instruction is adapted to support the participation of learners with complex communication needs (CCN).

  • The learner does not have to say sounds or words out loud.
  • The learner can use a variety of means to participate in instructional tasks, including:
    • speech
    • signs
    • selecting pictures or AAC symbols
  • The instructor provides scaffolding support to help the learner say the sounds in his /her head (subvocal rehearsal).
  • The instructor fades this support as the learner develops competence.
  • The materials are designed to help the instructor determine areas where the learner is having difficulty. 


Is there evidence of the effectiveness of the curriculum?

The curriculum was developed and evaluated by Dr. Janice Light and Dr. David McNaughton through a research grant (#H133E030018) funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) as part of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (The AAC-RERC).

Results of the study demonstrated the effectiveness of the curriculum.

All participants learned to read as a result of instruction, including learners with:

  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Developmental apraxia
  • Multiple disabilities

Click for further information on the research.

Click to view videos of the participants' success stories.


Last Updated: August 31, 2012