Like you, I am an educator. Perhaps unlike you, I am the parent of an adult with Down syndrome (Jonathan, 31, with DS and ADHD). The reading materials you find on this site are the result of experience with both roles: finding the magic key to discerning what works and what doesn’t work, and providing materials that will achieve success with efficiency and—mindful of the student’s nature—fun.
My love for reading began as a child, and it ignited into a passion when I taught my son to read as a five-year-old. I was lucky; he was a reading sponge, absorbing quickly and retaining easily. Seeing this five-year-old sitting and reading his homemade reading books aloud (with no pictures on the page) to friends, teachers, strangers—literally anyone who would listen to him—totally defined my purpose. I wanted every child with Down syndrome to have the same joy and ease that he did.
Imagine this thrill: Jonathan was 16 and our family went to a performance of The Lion King on Broadway. I bought him the large program book which was full of tiny text. At intermission, he refused refreshments because he wanted to stay in his seat and read the program, which he did. On the way home, as the family was chatting about how great “Scar” was, Jonathan said, “Yep, Scar was played by Patrick Page. He also played the role of Lumiere on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast.” Silence in the car. You can imagine. He had studied the program. Teaching is full of thrills, and that was one of its top moments for me.
I hope to give you the possibility of experiencing many of those moments.
TEACHING SUCCESS AND DOWN SYNDROME
There are two keys to teaching success when it comes to Down syndrome, and any educator who works with this or a similar population knows them:
1. The materials have to work for visual perception, brain processing, retention, fluency, ability to generalize the material learned, and school system requirements.
2. Secondly—or arguably first—the reading material, no matter what it is, has to engage the student’s motivation, regardless of age. If a student isn’t jazzed by or at least interested in the material you put in front of him, none of his voluntary learning systems will be in gear. He will be internally long gone before you can even get your foot in his reading door. Door shut, end of subject. As an experienced educator, you know exactly what I’m talking about. What ensues then is a struggle with only tooth-extraction success.
Across this country, dedicated educators are asking for the information you’ll find on this site; it is my hope that Special Reads materials and my workshops will spread the reading ripples far so that, indeed, no child is left behind. And no teen or adult as well; many of my students are teens who fell through the reading cracks in the system and come to me still not reading. These are students who, not surprisingly for Down syndrome, could not learn through systems that were already in place. Historically, most educators are not specifically trained in best practice for teaching learners with Down syndrome; I hope this site will begin to change that.
MEETING THE NEED AT A MINIMAL COST
Special Reads for Special Needs offers a supplemental, affordable reading program for the classroom that will, most often, outpace large, expensive reading programs in terms of quick success. Why is this? Two reasons: design and content.
DESIGN AND CONTENT
In teaching reading, I view materials from the viewpoint of the brain; its process of perception is one of my primary concerns. If the child’s brain can’t easily grasp the material visually, we’re putting unnecessary stumbling blocks in his reading path. Special Reads materials are designed with unparalleled clarity: large type, double spacing between words, sans serif fonts, abundant white space to assist focus, and no juxtaposed pictures competing for attention (this is research-based; at the emergent reader level, pictures are ideally placed on the page following the text.)
Here’s a design test:
If you are uncertain whether or not the material you are using meets standards for clarity, turn the material upside down, squint (an illustrator’s trick), and ask yourself what you see. Is the material clear? Does your brain like what you see? In other words, is the brain at ease when it looks at the shapes through your squinting eyes? Or is the brain struggling just to separate and identify shapes?
As an educator of individuals with Down syndrome, I know firsthand that if the materials don’t interest them, they’re “outta here.” When we lose their interest, we lose their cooperation, focus, and in the end, their reading progress. Chances are high that you have also experienced this. Motivation, buy-in, interest—by any name—is essential for our students. One-on-one in the classroom, this is more or less difficult depending on your class load and disability demographics. It’s ideal if you can create personal books for your student (on our home page, scroll down to see the article, “How to motivate your student with Down syndrome to read.”) If that’s not practical, Special Reads tries to cover that need for you by keeping many of the books favorite food centered: pizza, ice cream, spaghetti, peanut butter are headliners. In addition, children with Down syndrome have a particular sense of humor that either causes or is based on hilarity. They love ridiculous humor; I learned this early, and I take unabashed advantage of that in my books.
Using the twin tools of brain-friendly design and motivating content, as well as best practice methods, Special Reads tries to successfully teach as broad a learning audience as possible. I hope you enjoy these materials, as well as the photos on these pages of some of my amazing and endearing students.
We Accept Purchase Orders
We are happy to accept purchase orders from your school. We no longer use FAX, so you can attach the P.O. to an email as a PDF, or send it through regular mail to 1421 N Catalina St, Los Angeles CA 90027.
Educators will be interested in our 3-in-1 Bundle, which will supply them with Emergent Reader, Primer, and First Grade levels of teaching material.