2001 Conference Proceedings

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Kimberly A. Pineau
PO Box 80
Laurens, NY 13796
E-mail: kapin@dmcom.net


Reading is the process of deciphering symbols of a message that have meaning to both the author and the person receiving the message. For the greatest part of the population, this means deciphering combinations of letters that create agreed upon sounds, which represent an object or concept. Students with language disabilities are at a disadvantage since the very definition of language disability implies that "language" is not used with purpose and therefore reduces the ability of the message to have meaning (Frost, 1994).

Literacy is an extension of both reading and language. In it's most strict definition, literacy is the ability to read and write. Today, the concept of "emergent Literacy" encompasses more than the historical version, and is defined as the ability to share knowledge through any of the four domains of communication: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Emergent literacy allows a client to use any version of language to convey his or her message. Clients with language disabilities often use a form of symbolic language. Symbolic language is the pairing of a picture or object with the written word that represents it, creating a meaningful way to share a message between two communication partners.

Support for early and intensive interventions is provided by Pierce and Porter (1995): "Forty percent of children with oral language delays and impairments tend to have significant literacy problems by the time they are in first and second grade"(online). This presentation will include a set of suggestions that I have used to enhance emergent literacy for students with language disabilities. It will include the use of symbol language, literacy activities, and assistive technology.

Activities that will be highlighted will include:

Identification of Symbolic Understanding- a prerequisite of emergent literacy is the understanding of objects as meaningful. The four levels of symbolic representation I will use include: Real Objects- using an item from the activity to represent that action/routine. Mini-Objects- by retaining the 3 dimensional shape the item retains more meaning than a flat object. Refrigerator magnets and doll toys are excellent mini-objects. Pictures- this term includes two types of symbols, a true camera photo or photocopy and a hand or computer drawing in either black and white or color. The highest level of symbolic understanding is the traditional form of written communication, the Written Word. New vocabulary introduction may require a short period of lower level symbol use to cement the concept and symbol as a meaningful unit.

Teaching Initiation- an exchange of meaning must take place for communication to occur; therefore the skill of initiation allows a child to begin communicating. Some clients will have the ability to move about and should be taught that they can bring a message to another individual. Clients with motor impairments will require an "attention-getting" device such as a bell.

Teaching Symbolic Vocabulary- the symbols a student will use must be understood; this is a step that is often left out. Various symbol systems are available. An important point to remember is that community members who are not trained will find some systems more easy to understand than others. A recommendation of pairing the written word with the symbol allows untrained communicators to be involved with minimal directions.

Literacy Activities- the bulk of the information presented will relate to activities that can be used to help language disabled students increase their literacy skills. The same variety of literacy activities used with non-language disabled students will work for students with language disabilities. The difference will be in the presentation and repetition of activities. Typical activities are to read to the student; label the environment; write experience stories; use computer-aided writing programs; act out stories, fairy tales and fables; and the use of daily literacy routines.

Examples of Intellikeys, Discover Switch/Board, paper communication boards, modified trade books and other low and mid-level voice output devices will be available. Connections will be made to the New York State Learning Standards as examples of student goals.


Frost, Lori A, M.S., CCC/SLP; Bondy, Andrew S., Ph.D. (1994). The Picture Exchange Communication Training Manual. Cherry Hill, NY: Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. 1-4.

Pierce, Patsy L. & Porter, Patricia B. (1996). Helping persons with disabilities to become literate using assistive technology: Practice and policy suggestions. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities {on-line}, 11(3) 142-146, 162. Available: Ebscohost.

Pineau, Kimberly (2000). Reading program for language disabled students. Masters level project. College of St. Rose; Albany, NY

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