Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Joy of Reading!

Sam learning to read was one of the highlights of our journey. Our NACD program had us start fast flashing pictures, then picture/word cards and finally just words. We started the process when Sam was 2 years old. Sam was non-verbal but he seemed to be attending to my fast flash portion of our program. I often told Sam's evaluator from NACD that if I had to fast flash "butterfly" one more time with intensity I would forever hate that creature. And yet....I will never forget the day...Sam was 3 years old...and I decided to see if Sam knew the cards we had been working on. I laid out 3 word cards in front of him and asked him if he could tell me which one was "butterfly". He picked it up and handed it to me. My mouth dropped open and my mind raced. Okay let's try....truck, television, toilet....(my mind was thinking he identified the word by the first letter). I asked for truck and he handed it to me. I tried 4 cards at a time and he still handed me the right one. That day we went through our whole stack of cards and Sam was able to identify each one. He was reading!!! I called my husband, my mom...anyone I could think of to tell them Sam was reading. We now work on the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language. Sam is working on the 300-400 range. I have learned that it is easier to put Sam's flashcards on PowerPoint with pictures of his family in between to help hold his attention. Sam loves to go through his word cards and as an added benefit for me...I no longer misplace or lose the cards. I have included a video at the end of this blog showing me fast flashing new words to Sam, Sam reviewing his old words and Sam reading from one of his many Experience Books. Experience books are books about Sam...I mean really who wouldn't love to read books about their own family, life and adventures. In my life and journey with Sam, it's all about the intensity, with intensity we have learning and we have progress.

Sam's learning to read gave me that needed boost to help raise my expectations for Sam. What I didn't know at the time was how important his reading would become to us. Sam was diagnosed with Apraxia; Verbal apraxia is a disorder of articulation characterized by difficulty with sequencing and organizing motor or muscle movements specifically for the production of speech. It may also be described as the impaired ability to motor-plan. We have often used Sam's reading ability to work on his speech. He learned to read certain sentences well and then was able to use those same sentences when he wanted to ask for something. His speech did not sound as natural as if he had thought of it and said it himself but he was able to express his wants and needs to us.

An area we struggled with was...should we or shouldn't we introduce sign language and this was before Sam had been diagnosed with a conductive hearing loss in both ears. We attempted sign language early on but noticed that Sam no longer attempted speech, even when asked to use both the sign and word, Sam would only sign. His verbal expression simply stopped. I was disappointed because I had heard wonderful stories about using both sign and speech to help a child express themselves but as I have often learned with Sam...what works for some doesn't necessarily work for him. We stopped using sign and again focused on reading and speech. Sam began to attempt his speech utterances again. NACD had me do a therapeutic video on naming the letters and their sounds. This was one of Sam's favorite videos and a video I won't post here on my blog. In this video it is a close up of my face saying the letters such as "A" "ahhhh". On a larger screen TV, honestly, no one wants to see their face that close up...but Sam would watch my mouth and say everything along with me. This video gave him wonderful practice on forming the letter sounds. We now use sign language again to help cue Sam's speech and to communicate with him in the pool when he doesn't wear his hearing aid or across a room when I don't want to yell something.

After Sam became comfortable reading words that have a picture, ie (horse, house, car...). We then moved on to the words without pictures, ie (of, the, when, we...). As he learned these words we would make up short sentences for him to read. When he became comfortable with sentences we moved on to easy reader books and are now at Level 3 books. Sam did great with Level 1 and 2 books but hit a wall when we got to Level 3. The number of words and size of the text kinda sent him for a loop. So I purchased a magnifier off of Ebay and have used that to make the reading of Level 3 books more pleasant for Sam.

One of the hardest areas to check was his comprehension. Sam is just learning how to hear properly with his hearing aid and he now is working on listening with intention. However, when I would ask questions about what he read he would often get them incorrect. So we have started to use a word bank, allowing Sam to look at possible answers and choose the best one. We also play a Read and Do game, where I write a sentence like, "Get up, run to the front door and knock on it." Sam reads it completely on his own and then I say, "Okay, go do it" and he does. Another way to check Sam's comprehension is to play, Treasure Hunt. I have collected different containers, travel shampoo bottles, travel soap dishes, tooth brush holders and I put a message or clue in each one. Then I hand Sam the first clue, which he reads by himself and he then has to figure out where the next message is. I end the game with a treat, grapes or TV time. The funny thing is Sam has often wanted to pass on the treat and just keep playing. I will try to video tape him playing this game.

I have included a video of Sam reading his sentences and choosing the right magnet to complete the sentence. Another great way to check comprehension. The important part, know your child can do it, raise your expectations and some advice from Sam...MAKE IT FUN!!


  1. Thanks for sharing your blog address on the homeschooling and Down syndrome yahoo group. I am happy to find your blog. I enjoy reading many Down syndrome blogs, but especially find helpful, ones that homeschool and share specific ideas/resources that have worked for them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sue, I would like to share this posting with my grad students in the class I will teach winter quarter. It is a class on teaching methods, pedagogy, etc. for special ed. Great information in so many ways! Parents perspective on teaching reading, strategies to do so, importance of assessment...I could go on and on. Okay if I share? Thank you for this great post!

  3. What a cutie! Thanks for stopping by my blog today- I love the reasons that you blog =)