How to Help a Special Needs Child Learn to Read

The following is a guest post from Deme Clainos.

Reading is the foundation for all other learning, making it crucial for every child to learn how to read. But learning how to read is not a simple process, especially for children with special needs. It can be a struggle to understand basic phonic concepts before moving into overall reading comprehension. Using individualized strategies, special needs children can make progress in reading and language skills.

Strategies to Help Children with Special Needs Learn to Read

1.  Learning Preference.  One of the first things parents should focus on is figuring out their child’s individual learning preferences. For example, some children are visual learners, while others do better with hands-on projects or through spoken instruction.

Children with Down syndrome, autism, Asperger syndrome and other special needs are often visual learners. They tend to remember words as a picture first and then begin to figure out how the letters and sounds work together to make up the word.

Although it may take time to figure out, knowing a child’s learning style can help bring out strengths and personal interests.

2.  What is your child most passionate about? Reading material should focus exclusively on your child’s biggest interests. Learning to read is challenging enough, but when the topic isn’t interesting it makes it even harder.

3.  Lots of Books.  Just as their mainstream peers would have plenty of books around, children with special needs should have lots of books even before they are able to read. It’s important to provide opportunity, no matter how long it takes them to become a reader.

But if the books aren’t simple enough, consider making your own books that incorporate sight words with personalized details and photos. At first, limit the number of words to 10 to 15 and build from there. For example, you could create a book about their favorite foods that includes pictures and short simple sentences on each page. It might say something like, “I like apples. I like cookies. I like pizza.” The books you create could be about favorite family members, friends, pets, sports and other activities.

4.  Keep it Short.  For those who are struggling to read, it’s important to break lessons down into just a few words and build from there. Create flash cards in sets of five and continue to add to the deck as reading skills progress. Read the words aloud at first until your child is able to read them on their own. Show the cards three or four times each time you bring them out. Do it in short, five-minute doses to help keep boredom at bay.

5.  Technology.  Using an online reading program like StudyDog lets the child learn at his or her own pace. The program adjusts to unique learning needs by providing extra support in areas of weakness. StudyDog starts with alphabetic awareness and guides each child through to reading comprehension. The reading software uses fun characters that are easy to understand and make kids want to return for more.

StudyDog is offering an exclusive discount to The Happy Housewife readers.  Go to this link and input the promo code HHL20H1 for  20 percent off a one year subscription. The code is valid through the end of September.

Although it might take added time and patience to help a child with special needs learn to read, it’s worth the extra effort. Without it they will struggle in other learning areas. Once they have gained basic reading and comprehension skills, new opportunities will open up on a personal and academic level.

Deme Clainos is the CEO and founder of StudyDog, an innovative online reading program for elementary school students. StudyDog represents a new wave of reading software where technology is harnessed to help a critical area, detecting and fixing reading problems with young children, often before the problems are noticed. The creation of StudyDog has helped more than 6 million children master reading basics.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.


  1. I have a slower reader. Thanks for the information about Study Dog!

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