Academic journal article Education

An Overview of the Techniques Used to Develop the Literacy Skills of Adolescents with Developmental Delays

Academic journal article Education

An Overview of the Techniques Used to Develop the Literacy Skills of Adolescents with Developmental Delays

Article excerpt

Literacy skills are very important in our daily life. Literacy skills help people function independently, foster relationships, develop self-esteem and interact with society. Developing literacy skills, therefore, empowers individuals with disabilities or developmental delays and facilitates their integration into communities. With increasing opportunities for inclusion in the Middle School grades, developing techniques to address the different literacy needs of individuals with developmental delays becomes more important. The literacy demands of adolescents have dramatically heightened from what was expected in the past and during elementary school; yet students' abilities are not aligned with the middle school learning requirements. This paper will provide an overview of reading techniques used with adolescents with developmental delays, although the models discussed can be modified to benefit any age group or functional level.

According to the 1992 American Association on Mental Retardation's definition of developmental delay or mental retardation, it "is characterized by significantly subaverage (IQ 70 or below) intellectual functioning existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more ... adaptive skill areas", which manifest before age 18. (AAMR, 1992). Overall, and to varying degrees, the development of individuals with mental retardation is delayed as compared to their same age peers. This delay affects their cognitive, linguistic, and learning capabilities. Most do not achieve the expected chronological milestones at typical age levels. Some may never reach certain milestones (Westing, 1986). Specific literacy remediation strategies may be used to improve their ability to perform successfully in school.

Characteristics that impeded adolescent academic learning include deficits in expressive language. For example, many may find it hard to articulate words and ideas clearly, and to communicate in complex syntax. Their receptive language performance is somewhat better and is usually more closely related to their intellectual "level" (Farrell & Elkins, 1994, p. 271). Individuals with developmental delays tend to have short attention spans, problems with short term memory and in generalizing information to new situations. They are also often not developmentally ready to learn how to read until middle or later childhood. Even as older students, the traditional orthographic or phonological awareness methods of teaching reading are often unsuccessful (Browder & Snall, 1993). This poses particular problems for adolescents in inclusion classes because many middle school teachers do not teach students the alphabetic principles of "how" to read. They do, however, provide instruction in how to use reading and writing to learn subject matter in a given discipline. In addition, textbooks pose additional difficulties for adolescents with developmental delays. Difficult vocabulary, specialized, content specific jargon, longer reading passages and fewer illustrations thwart a students ability to comprehend text. Some also have motor difficulties which can affect their handwriting, attention and visual-motor coordination. Many also have difficulty with frustration tolerance, especially with regard to academic learning and abstract instructional activities (Epstein, Cullinam & Polloway, 1988).

As many of these students experience difficulties with literacy training in their younger school years, by the time they reach adolescence and young adulthood, the curricular shift has been towards functional academics and away from literacy skills training. Some argue that this attitude is of "literacy pessimism" (Katims, 2000, p. 2) or "this learn early or never attitude has had unfortunate outcomes for many of the older children who begin to acquire concepts about literacy at the time that the school curriculum deletes literacy in favor of vocational or daily living skills." (Farrell & Elkins, 1994, p. …

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