Importance of Literacy Skills for Learners with Complex Communication Needs

There are many learners who have minimal or no functional speech due to autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain injury, for example. Unfortunately, many individuals who have complex communication needs do not develop functional literacy skills. In fact, it has been estimated that more than 90% of individuals with complex communication needs enter adulthood without functional literacy skills (Foley & Wolter, 2010).

Literacy skills are essential for everyone in today’s society. Literacy skills

  • Foster cognitive development and enhance learning
  • Allow full participation in educational programs
  • Increase access to employment options
  • Facilitate use of a wide range of technologies
  • Support the development of social relationships (e.g., through texting and social media)
  • Foster personal expression
  • Facilitate activities of daily living
  • Provide access to enjoyable leisure activities.

Literacy skills are even more important for individuals with complex communication needs that have minimal or no speech. For these individuals, literacy skills also

  • Provide a means to communicate any message for any purpose
  • Support language learning (i.e., support learning of vocabulary and syntax or sentence structure)
  • May support speech development
  • Increase self esteem
  • Enhance others’ perceptions of their competence, resulting in increased opportunities for learning.

The research suggests that, with appropriate evidence-based instruction, individuals with complex communication needs can learn to read and write even if they have limited or no speech.

In this website, we provide a step by step description of how to teach early literacy skills to learners with complex communication needs with video examples of one child, Anna, to demonstrate.

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