Interventions for Young Learning Disabled Children

  • 27 May, 2008

Although I have designed instructional programs for teaching reading to older students who lag in learning, I have never tried to design a beginning reading intervention for such students. My AMP program skips phonics and phonological awareness not because I don't think these are critically important reading skills, but because most students in middle school and high school won't lag seriously in these skills. (I didn't say no older students struggle in these areas. A small percentage, maybe 1 in 7 of struggling secondary school readers, still will need help with alphabetics. But even low middle school readers usually can read at the 3rd-grade level or above, and by that stage of reading development, phonics doesn't help much according to the National Reading Panel. 

  But what about young readers who struggle (or older ones who are far below level)? It is estimated that more than 85% of those children have problems with the phonological aspects of reading; and instruction, if it is to be successful, is going to have to address these phonological problems explicitly and thoroughly.

  Recently, I received a heart-rending letter from a mother with concerns about her daughter:

  I located your name and vita on the internet and was hoping with your education background that you might be able to direct me to documentation that would be helpful towards making education decisions for my daughter. ________ hit her head on a fire hydrant at school and now has a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) diagnosis in 3 deficient areas: Auditory Decoding, Tolerance-Fading Memory, and Integration Type-1.

Are you aware of any data that compares Fast ForWord and Earobics Reach? Are you aware of any studies using either program (Fast ForWord [FFW] and Earobics Reach) for students with TBI and/or CAPD?

  _______ is 9 years old and currently has the auditory processing ability of a 5 year-old as a result of the accident.

  Any information or guidance would be greatly appreciated.


An expanded version of my response follows.

Dear Mrs. ________:

I only know one study that directly compared Fast ForWord and Earobics...

Pokorni, J., Worthington, C., & Jameson, P. (2004). Phonological awareness intervention: Comparison of Fast ForWord, Earobics, and LiPS. Journal of Educational Research, 97, 147-157.

This study compared the performance of younger (7.5-9.0 years old) language-impaired poor readers. After 60 hours of training, there were no differences in any measure between Earobics and FastForward (the Lindamood-Bell group did a bit better on one measure of phonemic awareness, blending). But that was it: no reading or language learning differences among these groups.

  Then, I checked the What Works Clearinghouse (this is the U.S. Department of Education site that reviews research evidence:

It listed one study of Earobics that met their research standards, and it reported small positive effects for Earobics on children’s learning of alphabetics and fluency, with no evidence of any impact on reading comprehension or writing. Fast Forword had six studies that met the WWC criteria, and these reported positive effects with regard to the learning of alphabetics and mixed effects for reading comprehension. (I also came across a new study on Fast Forword by Gilliam, et al., 2008 and it found no benefits to Fast Foeword).

  What these studies suggest to me is that both of these programs CAN have a positive impact on students’ auditory processing skills (at least with regard to phonemic awareness), but that does not automatically transform into better reading achievement. It is not clear whether one of these programs is actually "better" than the other given this evidence, but there is no reason from these research studies to conclude that one is consistently superior to the other (which mans that price and motivation should be big factors in the choice--if one costs much more than the other, save your money, or try out both programs with your daughter to see if she likes one better than the other).

  Whichever of these programs may eventually be used with your daughter, it must be supplemented by a serious effort to teach her to read and write beyond the alphabetics work in these programs. Your letter does not tell her reading level, but given her age and auditory processing levels, I assume she is very low in reading. That would mean I would work hard to teach her beginning sight vocabulary (build up a long list of words that she can recognize quickly and easily, no matter what her alphabetic skills), involve her in lots of writing activities (with invented spelling where she tries to spell as she thinks the words sound), oral reading fluency work (reading while listening or repeated reading), and reading comprehension too (having her reading stories and trying to retell them or to answer questions about them).

  It is important that students learn to decode (to sound out words), but those skills are only part of a larger constellation of skills that must be developed. Although for most children, the development of these phonological skills presages growth in oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing, with disabled children, sometimes these other skills precede and even support the development of the phonological skills. I recommend a full instructional response to your daughter’s needs—not just a targeted, surgical strike at the auditory problems that you describe.

  Good luck to you.


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Interventions for Young Learning Disabled Children


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