Why bother with books? 5 Ways to Tackle Reading with AAC Learners

No matter who you are or how you communicate -- reading really matters.

Our world is flooded with written language from billboards, to instructions, to warning labels, to video game descriptions, to websites, to social media posts, to song lyrics, and on and on and on.

And then there are books. Let’s not overlook books.

Books may be one of the most powerful learning tools in the history of ever. Books not only teach us new concepts and help us explore the world, they also inspire our imaginations and give us unique things to think about -- things that tickle our creativity and prod us to ask new questions.

But learning to read when you cannot speak can be a little more tricky. It’s definitely more difficult to sound out words and phrases when you can’t hear your own voice, and that is one thing an AAC device cannot do for you.

However, that’s no reason to give up. Reading matters too much to be flatly abandoned because it takes extra work.

So how can we infuse an AAC user’s life with reading so that he or she has the opportunity to become a beautiful bookworm.

  1. Watch for Read-aloud opportunities: Reading is built on language recognition. Being exposed to words and phrases is a HUGE part of learning to read. So read out loud to your child or student. Read stories about things that interest him or things that interest you. Read up on places you plan to visit or things you plan to see. Read jokes and comic books and journals. Surround children with stories, ideas, and words. When a child sees written words and begins to de-code the sounds they have heard before, reading becomes more natural. Exposing children to words gives them a big boost into the world of reading.

  2. Make way for independent reading: Everyone likes a little independence. To help with this, CoughDrop has a built in reading feature which allows users to link TarHeel Reader books to speech boards so the stories can be opened with a click and read silently to themselves OR read aloud by the CoughDrop program. Not only can the communicator hear the story, but she can follow along and see the words being read. The TarHeel Reader site will also allow you to design your own books. This means that teachers, parents, and therapists can create stories specific to their communicator's need or search out books that fit the bill and then link them to speech boards for quick access straight within the CoughDrop app. (Try it for yourself with a simple board below.)

  3. Look for more media options: It's no secret that kids love their device -- so let's use that fact to our advantage. In addition to TarHeel Reader, there are other ways to access books that can be read aloud or read on your own on an iPad, Android tablet, or smartphone. Most local libraries have an online bookshelf that will allow you to check out e-books many of which can be read aloud by your device Overdrive is one option, but ask your local library for more. In addition, sites like Epic offer Netflix-style access to thousands of books of all reading levels and many of these offer a read-aloud option beamed straight to your screen.

  4. Don’t underestimate your reader's power: It’s easy to look at the tremendous task of literacy before you and think, “There is just no way he can do this.” Reading can be hard even in the best of circumstances. However, if you give him a chance, you just may be surprised at what this child can do. Give your AAC reader the opportunity to fill in the blank in sentences using their AAC device. Pick up a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and let him direct the path you take through the pages. Allow her to select which book from a group to read or even what topic to read about. Use books as rewards or give AAC users the chance to peruse and choose their own menu options. Let her try her hand at social media or writing a story of her own. Holding tight to the idea of presumed competence, and giving motivation and opportunity to your reader you just might be surprised what can happen.

  5. Model, model, and model some more: We can’t say it enough -- whether it’s modeling language on an AAC board or demonstrating the importance of reading -- setting the example for children is the biggest teaching tool we have. Let your kids catch you reading. Tell them about a great story or article you discovered. Read just one chapter of a great yarn each day to tempt them with a tale. Help them understand that reading is a door to the wonders of this world and far beyond.

Additional resources relating to books and reading:

Why Reading Matters for Kids

15 Books that help kids understand what differently abled kids are up against

Tips on Encouraging your child to Enjoy Reading