6 Ways to Adapt Alphabet Activities for a Child with Special Needs

A special needs mom and consultant explains ways to adapt alphabet activities to a child with special needs. 

The English language is a complex language. If you are teaching a child with a language learning disability (whether or not accompanied by other disabilities) to read or write, the task is a great one. You might be wondering if you should tackle the alphabet before your child is uttering sounds. Should you teach him to read? Should you bother with writing?

The answer to each of these questions is: yes. Just because your child cannot speak or read aloud, does not mean he or she cannot learn to read and write. Although reading and writing skills are affected by a language delay, with the right support, a child can indeed learn to read and/or write.

Some parents and teachers choose to teach reading to a child with special needs from whole to part (from words to their individual letter sounds). Others focus on phonics right from the start. This post assumes that you have already decided whether you will take a whole-word or phonetic approach to reading and writing, and your child is ready for learning letter-sound connections.

Alpha Awesomeness and Spectacular Sounds by Molly Lynch is a collection of phonetic posters that not only introduces children to letters and sounds, but also provides opportunities for hands-on practice. In this post, I will show you how to use this kit with a child with a speech/ language delay or disorder.


What’s included:

  • Alpha-Awesomeness & Spectacular Sound Posters | Lucky to Be in First by Molly Lynch26 alphabet sound posters (each with a picture, a word, and a letter )
  • 26 letter-formation posters (upper- and lowercase)
  • 7 posters for consonants spelled in multiple ways
  • 6 posters with blends
  • 5 long vowel sounds posters
  • 5 digraphs posters
  • 4 irregular sounds posters
  • 26 letter formation posters

For details on the full package, see the product description.

Why I like this package:

  • Colorful, slim posters with one clear image per poster make for easy display and manipulation
  • Provides potential for hands-on practice if the posters are printed in different sizes

How to adapt the unit for a child with special needs:

Below are 6 suggestions for using this phonics unit with a child with a speech/language delay or disorder.

1. Begin with letters associated with speech and articulation development.

Speak with your child’s speech-language pathologist about the order of sounds generally acquired by children and which one(s) your child is showing readiness for producing.Letter formation and sound cards_1

We are working on bilabial sounds: /m/p/b/ because these are typically the first sounds a young child produces. Since I’m introducing the letters ‘M’,’P’, and ‘B’ to my son, I only printed these posters from the kit. My goal is to help him make the sound-symbol connection right from the start. In this way, he will begin to understand that the symbols represent a distinct sound that he can produce. Eventually, he will be able to generalize this learning to other letters as they are introduced. Always accompany the sound-symbol to the method of communication your child is already using (i.e.: ASL signs, PECS, AAC, etc.)

2. Teach capital letters first. Uppercase letters_2

When printing and laminating the cards, blot out the lowercase letter in the letter formation set so that you only display the uppercase letter. While the order of teaching lower- versus uppercase letters is debatable, for the child with special needs, learning uppercase letters first is generally easier. Uppercase letters are mostly straight lines and all letters begin at the same top line when handwriting. Introduce the partner letter when your child is showing readiness.

3. Relate to real objects.

Use toys and objects found around your home that begin with the letters to make meaningful letter-sound connections.

4. Trace laminated cardsTrace laminated cards_4

Have your child practice by tracing the letters on the posters with a finger. If your child can hold a marker, use a dry-erase marker directly on the posters.

5. Create a sound pouch. Create a sound pouch_5

Laminate two posters back-to-back and cut along one edge to create a pouch. Have your child locate objects that begin with that sound, and insert it into the pouch as you emphasize the letter sound.

6. Get physical. 

Stick two or three letter posters on a wall. From across the room, ask your child to run and touch the letter symbol for the sound you articulate. For example, say, “Touch /p/” rather than naming the letter ‘P’.

To build literacy prerequisites, see the parental tips offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

About the All-Star Blogger

profile 6_100x100Gabriella Volpe is a homeschooling mom of a child with special needs, a certified teacher and the homeschool consultant for families of children with special needs. She knows first-hand what it means to struggle with educational planning for a child who does not fit the system and is limited by resources and products intended for children without disabilities. She helps parents find ways to adapt and modify the curriculum so they don’t have to spend hours figuring it out on their own. She also helps after-schooling families of children with special needs navigate their way around the homework hours. You can find her at www.GabriellaVolpe.com.