Literacy and AAC

Advancing Literacy for AAC Users by Rose Marie Gallagher. "'How can I know how a child is reading when I can't hear what's going on inside his or her head?' Unfortunately, the lack of an answer may contribute to the alarming statistic that fewer than ten percent of AAC users read beyond the second grade level (Erickson, 2003). I’ve been searching for answers to this question in hope of improving the literacy outcomes for children using AAC. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve found with you here." (The original website is no longer active, so we have linked to a copy at

Bookshare. Online collection of over 45,000 accessible books, textbooks, and periodicals; free membership for qualifying individuals with print disabilities. Funded by US Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education Programs; annual fee for all others and organizations; access technology for reading digital books.

Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The Center’s mission is to promote literacy learning and use for individuals of all ages with disabilities. It is the belief of the CLDS that disabilities are only one of many factors that influence an individual's ability to learn to read and write and to use print throughout their life and across their living environments. All individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have the right to an opportunity to learn to read and write in order to increase and enhance their educational opportunities, vocational success, communicative competence, self-empowerment capabilities, and independence." Projects, Events (Literacy in AAC training), Resources (articles, training videos, Writing with Alternative Pencils CD), Links,

David Koppenhaver — Dave’s Literacy and Disability Site. Inclusive Literacy (for Beginning Readers), IEPs and (Emergent) Literacy, Music and Literacy, Independent Reading And Writing For Emergent Readers And Writers

Emergent Literacy for Individuals with Severe/Profound Multiple Disabilities, Presenter: Elizabeth S. Rush, MA, CCC-SLP, CPM, Director, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Services Murdoch Center Butner, NC 27509. Proceedings of Center On Disabilities Technology And Persons With Disabilities Conference 2005.

"He's Not Really a Reader": Perspectives on Supporting Literacy Development in Individuals with Autism by Pat Mirenda, Ph.D. Topics in Language Disorders, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 271-282.

Literacy for All: In Conversation with Dr. Caroline Musselwhite. These 11 video clips and related learning guides provide an opportunity to enhance and support teacher practice in the area of literacy for students with significant disabilities. Dr. Caroline Musselwhite is an assistive technology specialist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with significant disabilities. - See more at:

Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and Other Disabilities by Janice Light and David McNaughton, Pennsylvania State University. What skills to teach, how to teach these skills, videotaped examples of instruction with learners; includes adaptations for learner responding through augmentative communication methods rather than speech.

Literacy in Individuals with Severe Disabilties, ASHA website. Brief information and resources on Emergent Literacy, Reading and Writing, Assessing Literacy, and Literacy Instruction for speech language pathologists.

Literacy Lessons for Beginning AAC Learners by Carole Zangari of PrAACtical AAC. “Rather than talking in general terms about how to implement literacy instruction with beginning learners of AAC, we decided to share the activities and intervention strategies that we used.”

Literacy Resources — Jane Farrall Consulting. Information about balanced leading for ALL students, plus external links and resources.

Maximizing the Literacy Skills of Individuals who Require AAC by Janice Light, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Penn State University. Webcast with downloadable transcript and PowerPoint slides.

PrAACtically Reading: Writing to Read with Karen Natoci. Writing to Read: Mad Lib, Core Words, and Literacy Instruction, Core Vocabulary focus: like, dislike, uh-oh, again. Article provides illustrations and a lesson plan, based on the work of Gretchen Hanser, for students with complex communication needs who are beginning their literacy journey.

Reading Comprehension and AAC by Karen Erickson. "Learning to read silently with comprehension is typically a daunting process for persons who use AAC." This article provides specific information regarding reading and listening comprehension instruction for school-aged students with complex communication needs.

Ready, Set, Write! Alternative Pencils and Writing for Students with the Most Significant Needs by Gretchen Hanser and Dr. Caroline Musselwhite. Handout for a presentation at ISAAC in Toronto, August 8, 2016. Free download of PowerPoint slide presentation. “The power of 26! Using the alphabet is the one way students can express ANYTHING they want!” Emergent to Conventional Literacy Continuum, Using the alphabet, Alternative Pencils, Partner Assisted Scanning, AlphaBooks, Switch Access, Writing Activities, Goals, Teaching Strategies, Ongoing Assessment, Tips for Getting Started.

Research on Literacy Instruction for Students With Significant Disabilities. Links to articles on literacy, teaching writing, inclusive instruction in reading and language arts, assessment, MEville to WEville curriculum.

Setting Up a Literacy Classroom by David Koppenhaver. “If you're going to get stuff to implement best practice in your classroom, you ought to start by informing yourself about what constitutes best practice in literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities.” Koppenhaver explains how he defines good literacy instruction for all students and provides numerous explanations and resources for classrooms.

Supporting the Literacy Development of Students with Autism by Paula Kluth, 2005. Adapted from: P. Kluth (2003). "You're going to love this kid": Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing. "Too often students who do not follow a typical developmental sequence of literacy are seen as being unable to profit from academic instruction related to reading, writing, speaking, and listening. When teachers expand their understanding of literacy, however, they can facilitate the development of a range of abilities, build on the skills that students do have, and craft learning experiences that meet students' unique needs and capitalize on their strengths."

Tar Heel Reader website. Tar Heel Reader is “a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays and 1 to 3 switches.” Site is also available in 8 languages, is searchable by topic, and has instructions for writing and uploading stories to share.

Tell Me About the Story: Comprehension Strategies for Students with Autism "Many a teacher has asked a student to 'tell about the story' only to be met with a blank stare. This may be particularly true for students with autism. Some students with autism simply do not have the communication skills to be able to answer the question, others don't know how to communicate the information they do have, and still others don't understand enough about the story to respond."

Toward Positive Literacy Outcomes for Students with Significant Developmental Disabilities This research article is published by the Assistive Technology Industry Association in its peer-reviewed journal, Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits. The article reports on an investigation of the impact of the MEville to WEville Early Literacy and Communication Instructional Program.

What Does the Research Say? Alternative Pencils website. "Many of the studies and literature surveys reviewed here have a similar message that has been repeated over the last four decades- even when taking into consideration many of the recent technical advances, nothing replaces sound early literacy instruction. Hanser (2006) writes, "...early writing can be a challenging and frequently overlooked activity for students with significant disabilities including complex communication and physical needs. Beginning with emergent literacy development, writing plays a central role in supporting typical children's understandings about print. Research in emergent literacy for children with complex communication and physical needs suggest that this population benefits from the same type of literacy activities used with typical children." (p. 4)"

What Does Writing for Students with Significant Disabilities Look Like? By Monica Braat. Think Inclusive website. "It is important not to mistake tasks that develop matching, memorizing, copying or fine motor skills with the learning process of writing. Students with disabilities need to experience the same processes as those without when developing writing. They need to scribble and explore and progress from being emergent to conventional writers." Information how to do it with flip charts, remnant books, pictures and photos with captions, "weekend words", writing Tarheel Reader books, classroom newspapers, writing cards using PODD books, Mad libs using PODD, My Story Maker and Read-Think-Write, and First Author writing.

Writing with Alternative Pencils, UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies. Information on various "alternative pencils" for students with significant disabilities, including deaf-blindness. "All the alternative "pencils" have been designed for students who are unable to hold a traditional pencil or physically manipulate a keyboard."

Adapting books

A-Z of Adapting Books for Students with Disabilities in Virginia. Based on and expanded from the original concept by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP; North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, 2006.

Adapting Books by Pam Harris. Instructions with photo illustrations for adapting books for use by a person who uses AAC.

Literacy for Everyone with Adapted Books by Robin Parker of PrAACtical AAC. "Books should be accessible physically as well as through content and interest…It holds true for ALL disabilities, and ALL levels of reading and writing." Links to many resources on adapting books.

Books to Learn More about Literacy Instruction and Communication

A Land We Can Share: Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism by Paula Kluth Ph.D., and Kelly Chandler-Olcott.

Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four-Blocks® Way, Grades 1 - 3 (Four-Blocks Literacy Model) by David Koppenhaver and Karen Erickson

Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Reading and Literacy for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities by Karen Erickson, Ph.D., Gretchen Hanser, Ph.D., Penelope Hatch, Ph.D., Eric Sanders, M.S./CCC-SLP. Free online copy. 136 pages, 13 chapters plus Appendix.

Seeing All Kids as Readers: A New Vision for Literacy in the Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom by Chris Kliewer