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Becca Eisenberg
BY Becca Eisenberg

5 Materials That Can Improve Literacy in Adults with Developmental Disabilities: It’s Never Too Late!

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”—Frederick Douglass

For adults, literacy is the key to being more independent and functional. Many adults with developmental disabilities cannot read and are dependent on others to help them navigate daily life in most environments. This limits their ability to travel, shop, work in certain settings, order for themselves off a restaurant menu, and navigate through an unfamiliar building. It can decrease their ability to take safety measures in certain situations.

Within a school environment, literacy is targeted on a daily basis and is part of a child’s educational goals. For many adults with developmental disabilities, goals shift as they age, and literacy may be targeted less over time. Additionally, it is key for an adult with developmental disabilities to learn basic literacy skills to help them navigate in an emergency and communicate personal information to others.

Below are five tools for targeting literacy for adults with developmental disabilities:

1. Traffic and community signs

Start by pointing out signs in your own community or building. Take a photo of these signs and print them either as flashcards or a bingo game. Teach the individual what the words mean and point signs out in other locations.

For example, the word “exit” can be seen in many different buildings and can be important to identify when the individual needs to leave the building. Other words and signs like “women” and “men” are key for individuals in finding the right-gender bathroom.

2. Magazines

Magazines are full of literacy opportunities, but they can be tricky for adults with developmental disabilities due to the vast amount of text. Make them simpler by choosing articles with a lot of pictures and cutting out specific articles or ads that are of interest to the individual.

For example, if an individual loves a specific food and/or place, cut out an ad or article on that topic and break it down by teaching some key sight words. Provide strategies to teach the individual how to determine the meaning of the text based on the picture.

3. Local Newspapers or Newsletters

Newspapers can be challenging for the same reasons as magazines. However, a local newspaper may be slightly less challenging because the stories are on familiar subjects. Let the individual choose an article that is motivating and also has picture cues to help determine what the article is about. Highlight key sight words for the same purpose.

In addition, a local newsletter can be an excellent tool. It has less text, is familiar, and may contain more visual cues.

4. Circulars

Circulars are one of my favorite materials because they contain a vast amount of visuals and can be very motivating. Highlight some of the key words.

For example, in a grocery circular, focus on sight words that are important, such as motivating foods and the name of the supermarket.

5. Menus

Menus have always been an excellent opportunity to improve literacy. I have written an article on ASHASphere about using menus as a treatment tool. To access this article and use menus as a literacy opportunity, go to

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Becca Eisenberg

Written on February 3, 2017 by:

Becca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her blog 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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