Key Principle: Provide Adaptations to Support Participation

Most literacy programs require learners to use spoken responses to participate so children with complex communication needs who have minimal or no functional speech are unable to participate.

How did we adapt literacy instruction to allow Anna to participate?

We made the following adaptations to support Anna’s learning:

  • We eliminated the need for spoken responses
  • We adapted tasks and provided her with other ways to respond. She could use signs, point to or exchange pictures, select letters, words, or pictures from a speech generating device or from mobile technology, or use speech approximations to participate.
  • We set up tasks and systematically selected the response options that we provided so that we could analyze her errors to identify areas of difficulty that required focused instruction
  • We provided support for her lack of speech production
  • We modeled each task orally (e.g., how to blend sounds, decode words, encode words)
  • We encouraged Anna to “say it in her head” (i.e., use internal subvocal rehearsal) even if she had difficulty saying the sound or word out loud.

These types of adaptations have been shown to be effective with a wide range of children who have complex communication needs, including younger and older learners, and including those with ASD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other special needs.


To provide adaptations to support participation,

  • utilize familiar task formats
  • provide alternative response options (e.g., signs, speech approximations, pictures, mobile technology)
  • accommodate vision, hearing and motor skills
  • select response options carefully to allow error analysis
  • provide oral scaffolding support as required

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