Using books with young people with SEND

Published on: 01 May 2024

BookTrust’s research shows that the lifelong benefits of reading for pleasure are tangible. But how can children with special educational needs gain these benefits? We asked Emma Steel to recommend ways to include and inspire such children and adults.

If you work in special education, you’ll know the struggle – large groups, pupils with different disabilities and difficulties, a national curriculum that is entirely inaccessible and countless hours spent trying to find a solution… sometimes, there simply isn’t one to find.

At the start of her teaching career, Emma Steel, now Head of publishing imprint Every Cherry, accepted a role at a summer play scheme and instantly fell in love with the area of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). However, when she landed her first role at a residential college for people with learning disabilities, she quickly realised that specific resources and support were in short supply.

Thus, Emma would spend her own time and money making the books on the curriculum, from Shelley’s Frankenstein right through to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, accessible for her students, who were predominantly 12–19-year-olds with conditions including Down syndrome, autism and profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).

Along with her colleagues, Emma would work hard to make the required texts as accessible as possible for students with SEND requirements.

They would:

  • Symbolise phrases within the texts, placing icons above key words to help with reading comprehension and understanding
  • Rewrite texts with dyslexia-friendly fonts and simplified stories
  • Bring stories to life through activities in the classroom (with decorations to make the environment more exciting)
  • Organise fancy dress sessions for the students to immerse them in the narratives

While innovation and creativity certainly helped, creating accessible resources alone poses obvious challenges – it’s incredibly time-consuming and can become a financial stress rather quickly, especially for under-funded departments.

What the SEND community requires is reading material that caters to their individual needs; one shoe doesn’t fit all, some people need visual cues to words, others need dyslexia-friendly fonts or audiobooks and others might need sensory elements to aid focus.

These are the features that Every Cherry’s team has worked so hard to include in its books – Emma’s first-hand experience as a special education teacher (17 years’ worth, to be exact) meant that she knew exactly what is required to ensure that those with learning disabilities can enjoy the same stories as everyone else.

Books must be forward-thinking and innovative to properly include every reader.

Here are some tips for teachers on using different kinds of books:

  • Read to the class frequently in new, innovative ways. Children can still benefit from books without having to de-code the words on the page themselves, and things like audiobooks are a great way to increase reading comprehension in a fun way.
  • Share wordless picture books with your students. No matter their age, or their challenges with language, they might enjoy constructing a story from the pictures, or simply poring over them, especially books with sensory elements.
  • Try non-fiction books. Sometimes bite-size facts capture a child’s imagination better than a story, and the real-life aspect can better help to retain attention.
  • Look for dyslexic-friendly fonts and books with larger typesets (and space on the page). If the layout is more accessible, it will automatically be more appealing.
All reading is good reading.

The first books from Every Cherry are available now:

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Accessible Easier Edition
  • Frankenstein: Accessible Easier Edition
  • Moby Dick: Accessible Easier Edition
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles: Accessible Easier Edition
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Accessible Easier Edition
  • Frankenstein: Accessible Symbolised Edition
  • Moby Dick: Accessible Symbolised Edition
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Accessible Symbolised Edition

Topics: Disability, Features

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