School-Age and Post-Secondary

Cochrane Review: Reading Instruction for Children with Intellectual Disability


The UCEDD is collaborating with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois at Chicago to conduct a Cochrane Review. The objective will be to systematically review the evidence on methods for teaching children with intellectual disabilities how to read. If enough studies are found, we hope to be able to compare studies to unfold the characteristics of the most successful methods to help inform practice.


Reading is one of the most important skills in our society that children need to master. Successful mastery leads to enhanced academic learning, long term success in school, and improved quality of life (Lyon, 1998; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 1986). The importance of learning to read is reflected in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 (PL 107-110), which declared that teaching all children to read on grade level by the end of third grade was a national goal to be met through the use of evidence based reading practices. These practices are ones that teach students to make connections between the sounds in spoken language and the written letters used to represent these sounds. Key areas of instruction include phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency (Adams, 1990; National Reading Panel, 2000; Partnership for Reading, 2001; Snow, et al., 1998). However, students with intellectual disability (ID) have been underserved when it comes to reading instruction (Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Algozzine, 2006; National Reading Panel, 2000) and the use of evidence based reading practices has been inconsistent. Students in this heterogeneous group experience several challenges when learning to read due to severe deficits in memory and language (Allor, 2009). Furthermore, the reading instruction that has been provided to students with ID has consisted primarily of a sight-word approach (Browder & Xin, 1998), whereby students learn to recognize whole words based on their visual appearance with little emphasis placed on learning the sounds represented by individual letters or combinations of letters. Unfortunately, generalization to words not directly taught, as well as strengthening reading fluency and comprehension, have not been demonstrated through the use of a sight word approach (Browder, et al., 2006). Having said that, it is unclear how effective an evidence based phonics approach to instruction may be for this group of students. The purpose of this review will be to provide guidance on the use of evidence-based practices in reading for children with ID to researchers, practitioners, and parents.