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Becca Eisenberg
BY Becca Eisenberg

10 Ways to Improve Literacy with Your Older Child with Special Needs in the Community

Many older children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities have varying literacy skills. Some individuals are literate, and others struggle with literacy, even into adulthood. From my perspective, you are never too old to learn how to read. I want to discuss ten easy ways to improve literacy when out in the community during regular daily tasks. No pen and paper needed and all free!

1. Street signs

Point out street or community signs within your community. Some of these signs can be when on the road or in a public place (e.g. library, post office, hospital, etc.). Review words such as “stop”, “police”, “restroom”, “men”, “women”, “exit”, etc. When out in the community, point out these words to your child so that they can begin recognizing the words over time.

2. Take out menus

Pick up some take out menus from your favorite restaurants around your community. Review vocabulary and discuss the varying foods on the menu. If your child can read the words on the menu, he or she can be more independent in making a choice when dining at a restaurant.

3. At the Post Office

The post office can be an optimal place for a literacy activity. The next time you are at the post office, point out key words to your child such as “priority mail”, “express mail”, etc. You can even take a couple of labels home to practice reading and filling out (e.g., certified mail receipts).

4. At the Grocery Store

Point out key words in the grocery store. Each aisle sign has different words such as “cookies”, “crackers”, “cereal”, etc. Take some photos of the names of the aisles so you can practice at home.

5. At the Pharmacy

Point out key words in the pharmacy. A pharmacy can be a scary place for a person who has limited literacy skills. We depend on our literacy skills significantly when reading labels of medications. I think many parents fear that their child might take a medicine they weren’t supposed to because they misread the medicine label.

6. Public Transportation

Point out key words when on public transportation. For example words like “downtown”, “uptown”, “open”, “closed”, “limited”, “express”, etc. Being able to read these words can make the difference when travel training an individual.

7. Circulars

Take a circular! Circulars can be an excellent therapy tool because it contains pictures and words. Beyond literacy, they can also be used to work on money management.

8. At the Mall

When you are shopping at the mall, point out the names of the stores and your child’s favorite restaurants in the food court. Learning these words can be useful not only to increase independence, but it can also improve safety skills in case your child gets lost.

9. Receipts

Keep your receipts! The next time you get a receipt, review it with your child. Have them read the names of items bought, the store you bought it from and any policies such as a return policy, etc.? This can also be an ideal activity for money management.

10. At the Movies

Movie words! When at the movies, have your child read the movies from the monitor at the ticket counter. This can be an excellent exercise that is motivating and functional!


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Becca Eisenberg

Written on March 18, 2015 by:

Becca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her blog www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience. She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at [email protected]
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