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It is also important to note that children with learning disabilities do not always acquire skills in the normal developmental sequence. If an individual does not develop adequate phonemic awareness during the pre-reading period, effective decoding may not be possible, which influences the development of fluent reading and comprehension skills.

Also, children with learning disabilities often come to the reading task with oral language comprehension problems. When assessing and planning for instruction, consideration of these oral language comprehension problems may facilitate acquisition of reading comprehension.

No single reading method will be effective for all students with learning disabilities. Most individuals with learning disabilities will benefit from the application of a variety of methods. Instructors need a repertoire of instructional methods.

Teachers should be able to appropriately and systematically modify or combine methods, and utilize different methods in order to meet an individual’s changing needs. Selecting the appropriate program to apply to the student is not a simple matter, and requires a careful assessment of where the student is in the developmental process.

It is not uncommon, for example, to observe an individual with all the pre-reading skills, numerous comprehension skills, and simple decoding skills acquired during the student’s progression through mechanical reading instruction. Because there may be a lack of understanding of the sophisticated decoding skills needed, reading with fluency suffers.

Students with learning disabilities should be provided with sound strategic approaches that empower them as readers, rather than be allowed to learn and internalize incorrect practices.

Selecting the appropriate method

A significant part of selecting appropriate instructional approaches is understanding the learning profile of an individual. A diagnostic program is necessary to identify students with learning disabilities. A cognitive profile is also necessary to determine precisely what students’ needs are, their strengths and weaknesses, whether they have difficulty with working memory, if they have inadequate language skills, etc.

Students with learning disabilities need to be taught strategic approaches explicitly. They need to have ideas made conspicuously clear to them.

Persons with learning disabilities who need to work on reading mechanics frequently respond to explicitly taught code-emphasis developmental reading methods such as phonic, linguistic, or multisensory approaches. Some of the more popular approaches are briefly described below.

  • Phonics approach

    The phonics approach teaches word recognition through learning grapheme-phoneme (letter-sound) associations. The student learns vowels, consonants, and blends, and learns to sound out words by combining sounds and blending them into words. By associating speech sounds with letters the student learns to recognize new and unfamiliar words.

  • Linguistic method

    This method uses a “whole word” approach. Words are taught in word families, or similar spelling patterns, and only as whole words. The student is not directly taught the relationship between letters and sounds, but learns them through minimal word differences. As the child progresses, words that have irregular spellings are introduced as sight words.

  • Multisensory approach

    This method assumes that some children learn best when content is presented in several modalities. Multisensory approaches that employ tracing, hearing, writing, and seeing are often referred to as VAKT (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile) methods. Multisensory techniques can be used with both phonics and linguistic approaches.

  • Neurological Impress Technique

    This is a rapid-reading technique. The instructor reads a passage at a fairly rapid rate, with the instructor’s voice directed into the student’s ear. The teacher begins as the dominant reading voice, but gradually the student spends more time leading these sessions.

    Students who have learned mechanics without adequately learning reading fluency frequently benefit from this, as do students who read slowly or who hesitate over a number of words but are able to identify most of the words in a sentence. A student is directed to read a passage without errors. This method functions most effectively when it is practiced for short periods every day.

  • Language experience approach

    The language experience approach uses children’s spoken language to develop material for reading. This approach utilizes each student’s oral language level and personal experiences. Material is written by the child and teacher for reading using each child’s experience. This can be done in small groups and individually.

    Familiarity with the content and the vocabulary facilitate reading these stories. Each child can develop a book to be read and re-read. This approach helps children know what reading is and that ideas and experiences can be conveyed in print.

  • Reading comprehension support

    Persons with learning disabilities who need work on reading comprehension often respond to explicitly taught strategies which aid comprehension such as skimming, scanning and studying techniques. These techniques aid in acquiring the gist, and then focus is turned to the details of the text through use of the cloze procedure.

    The cloze procedure builds upon a student’s impulse to fill in missing elements and is based upon the Gestalt principle of closure. With this method, every fifth to eighth word in a passage is randomly eliminated. The student is then required to fill in the missing words. This technique develops reading skills and an understanding not only of word meaning but also of the structure of the language itself.


Persons with learning disabilities will typically require a variety of instructional approaches in order to make their educational experiences more productive. There is no one best approach to teach reading to students with learning disabilities. There are many reading methods available with ongoing debate about which one is preferable.

It is critical that instructors understand both the student and the various reading methods available if the student is to have the best possible learning experience. The importance of a comprehensive evaluation that will result in prescription for intervention cannot be over-emphasized.

As important is the notion that teachers must have the ability to effectively and systematically alter various methods to meet the needs of individual children with learning disabilities.

Adapted from: LDA Newsbriefs Education Committee. (March/April 1998). Reading Methods and Learning Disabilities. LDA Newsbriefs. Learning Disabilities Association of America.
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