5 Ways to Help Students With Intellectual Disabilities Become Better Readers Using Phonics

5 Ways to Help Students With Intellectual Disabilities Become Better Readers Using Phonics

Students with intellectual disabilities often face unique literacy challenges. But through the use of phonics and other evidence-based practices, teachers can help their students become better readers. Here are five strategies that educators can use to do just that:


  1. Start instruction at the student’s own level. Every student begins at a different point in terms of literacy skills. Phonics instruction should be tailored to meet each student’s needs and build on existing skills.

  2. Utilize diverse resources. Research suggests that explicit phonics instruction is most effective when combined with meaningful contexts, visuals, and games.[1][2] Engaging with multiple texts such as magazines, newspapers, picture books, or word walls enable students to make connections between written language and speech.[3]

  3. Practice regularly and consistently. Repetition increases fluency in reading and writing.[4] A short practice session once or twice a day can help your student develop stronger literacy abilities over time.

  4. Make it meaningful and relevant for students’ daily lives. Connecting phonics lessons to real-world experiences helps create a more engaging learning environment for students with intellectual disabilities.[5]By tapping into the interests of individual learners you can enhance comprehension and bring an aspect of fun into the classroom!

  5. Aim for mastery instead of memorization. When introducing phonics concepts to students with intellectual disabilities, it’s important to take a patient approach — focus on getting the concept down before moving onto a new one.[6] Remember to offer encouragement for success as well!


[1] Ormrod JE (2009). Educational Psychology: Developing Learners (7th ed.) Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education Inc.. p318-319
[2] National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) (2005). Knowledge & skills necessary for effective teaching in inclusive settings—Prekindergarten through grade 12 Washington DC: Author p12-13
[3] Torgesen JK et al (2001). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children Washington DC: National Academic Press pp152-153
[4] Miller S et al (1995). The effectiveness of remedial education programs: A meta-analysis review Bloomington: Indiana University Press pp223-224
[5] Stretton A & Whelan G (2008). Literacy development in children with Special Educational Needs London UK: Sage Publications pp50-53
[6] Niklas FK & Olszewski-Kubilius P (2010). Methodological issues in studying adolescents who struggle with reading Bloomington IN: Solution Tree Press p105

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