Phonics for Folks with Down Syndrome!
Are you looking for a reading program that has been proven to help children and adults with Down syndrome? Then read on.
Raising Robust Readers is a phonics-based, phonogram-specific, family-friendly reading program that uses multi-sensory teaching strategies to go beyond the 26 alphabet letters to teach the remaining 46 letter combinations that make independent reading logical, predictable and easy to decode.
We teach parents using the same songs, gestures and animated videos that they can use as they engage with their children. With the Raising Robust Readers program, children are not taught tethered to a desk or worksheet. Teaching takes place where the reading needs to happen: on the go, wherever they go. The world becomes the workbook. Environmental print (menus, signs, groceries), toys and play become the worksheet. It’s meaningful. It’s relevant. It’s fun. And it helps struggling readers learn through multi-sensory play.
Learn more about why children with Down syndrome struggle with conventional reading programs.
We invite you to scroll down to read more and find out how it can help you and your family!
The Raising Robust Readers Course:
Why choose our course?
Phonics Works!! - When Taught the Right Way
Not all phonics programs are created equal. Decoding (sounding out) words in the traditional, letter-by-letter manner can have crippling results. Try sounding out ‘eight’ one letter at a time. Now try explaining how that result equals ‘eight.’ The default solution is to make it a sight word. But there is a better way. Using the same example, when beginning readers read words by sounds (‘eigh' says long /a/), they experience success. /a/ + /t/ = eight. No sight words necessary! With phonograms, the confusion, frustration and failure can be remedied.
Child-Centered and Family-Focused
Raising Robust Readers is child-centered, not curriculum-driven. Your child's individuality is honored through flexible planned sessions and, even more important, impromptu teachable moments. You can focus on the strengths and needs of your child, not the table of contents nor the timeline of a workbook. Jingles, gestures and clue box items make learning play-filled. Interest is higher. Retention is stronger. Parents, our most influential teachers, are guided and supported with step-by-step instructional modules, hard copy books, engaging videos and downloadable materials.
Research-Based + Real Life Know-How
Raising Robust Readers incorporates the best practices reported by highly recognized national reading organizations such as the National Reading Panel, the National Right to Read Foundation and the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Thus, multi-sensory, explicit and systematic instruction of phonics is at the core of our program. But, even more important, are the "real- life" best practices. The ones that can only come from experience. From trial and error. From learning what works best. From parenting and teaching and living Down syndrome.
On The Go Wherever You Go
When parents teach, and children learn, on the go wherever you go, the experience is easier, more enjoyable and more meaningful. The car, restaurants, supermarkets, the kitchen pantry and the doctor’s office replace stressful study sessions at desks and tables. The world is your workbook, and environmental print is your worksheet. Generalizing is no longer a big problem because learning takes place in meaningful real-life locations. (Hint: phonogram hunts in the cereal aisle are not only educational. They keep the kids busy! )
All Ages and All Stages
Raising Robust Readers is personality-perfect for those with Down syndrome. It is designed to be simple, clear, and consistent to complement our learners’ strong propensity toward routine, structure, predictability and trust. But instruction can be easily adjusted and adapted for all ages and ability levels. Thus, when using developmentally appropriate strategies, everyone may benefit — from babies to adults, and from strong readers to struggling readers.
What Sets Us Apart
Our sequence of instruction is a carefully crafted departure from traditional approaches. Blending begins very early so learners experience the joy of reading, not just saying sounds and recognizing letters. Each phase is designed in small successful steps from simple to complex; from sounds to syllables... and beyond to practical applications in real life. Our video instruction of the six syllable types and their effect on the sounds of vowels, along with guidelines for syllable division, take the guesswork and insecurity out of decoding longer words.
Robust Readers in Real Life:
Meet Devin and Casey, two young men with Down syndrome whose lives have been changed by the Raising Robust Readers program.
Devin is 26 years old and graduated from high school unable to read. When he and his mom began working with Raising Robust Readers, Devin could not correctly identify the names nor sounds of all the letters. Click on our short video to see a snippet of his progress after eight sessions.
From Judy O'Halloran
Co-Founder of Raising Robust Readers and Casey's mom
Casey O’Halloran is the genesis of our reading program. In high school, he was still on a track to graduate functionally illiterate. As 1) his mother and 2) a teacher with a degree in English Education, this was not acceptable to me. Without going into the details of the eight years of active research and myriad attempted reading programs, I will just say that, at 17, we discovered ‘phonograms,’ and Casey made the quantum leap to being able to read and write independently, to understand and to express himself in print.
This ability has facilitated his living in his own condo, taking public transportation to work at the courthouse (where reading is essential to his position as a clerical assistant), and choosing his own recreational activities. It certainly helped him fulfill his responsibilities when he was appointed twice by President Bush to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
While this is quite an honor, there is another accomplishment that I hold even higher. Casey is the acknowledged ‘card guy’ in our family. Everyone eagerly opens his or her card, knowing that he has spent much time poring over many until he finds just the right one to express his feelings on that occasion. Every time I open a Mother’s Day or birthday card; read the perfect verses; and savor Casey’s notes at the bottom, I am reminded that our journey toward independent literacy was worth every minute.
The Raising Robust Readers Course:
Ideal for Busy Parents & Struggling Readers
The Online Course with 18 step-by-step modules includes everything you need to teach your child how to read, including downloadable worksheets, fun-filled activities and more!
Easy for parents to learn and teach. Our online course videos guide you through the course, and show you the most effective methods to teach your child.
Uses the multi-sensory, research-based Orton-Gillingham approach
Awards and Accolades
Authors Judy O’Halloran and Marilee Senior received a 2015 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for literacy for “The ABCs of the Sounds We Read: Going Beyond the Alphabet to Discover the Reading Code.”
Raising Robust Readers has been chosen by GiGi's Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers to be used internationally with their literacy programs. Click here to watch an overview of GiGi's Playhouse/Raising Robust Readers phonics program. See it in action!
I was told children with Down syndrome should learn sight words instead of phonics because their visual skills are strong and their auditory skills are usually weak. Doesn't phonics depend on sounds?
Phonics definitely includes the auditory sense. In fact phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds) is one of the greatest predictors of later reading success. They still use their visual skills. Instead of memorizing whole words, however, the students learn (memorize) just 72 phonograms. They use their visual strength to SEE the sounds in words even when those sounds are comprised of two, three, or four letters. Plus, the added bonus, with phonics, is that students can begin to strengthen their auditory skills earlier and can practice them longer!
What is phonemic awareness?
Literally it means being aware of sounds. This term refers to spoken sounds. It is the ability to hear sounds and manipulate them. For example “t-a-p” vs “p-a-t.” Both have the same letters; but they are in a different order. Or “t-a-p” vs. “t-o-p” where the vowel sound is different. Note: This term differs from ‘phonogram’ which refers to the printed symbol.
At what age can I introduce phonograms to my child?
Phonograms can be introduced at any age as long as you consider the developmental (not the chronological) age of the individual, and teach accordingly. A baby can hear the songs and watch your mouth; a toddler can add gestures and play; an older child can associate print and sounds and go on phonogram hunts; an adult can learn and apply new skills to expand his/her independent opportunities. Truly, they can be introduced at any age and at any stage.
My son with Down syndrome has 'typical' siblings. Is your program suitable for them as well?
Oh my goodness yes. Every child deserves to learn the simplicity (yes, simplicity!!) and clarity of our English language. There are some children who are just natural readers. They just ‘get it’ when it comes to reading. But when they understand more fully how the pieces go together, their skills are taken to an even higher level. However, this group is in the minority. The 2015 Nations Report Card revealed that approximately 2/3rds of 4th and 8th graders, nationwide, read below proficiency. The scores for 12th graders in 2015 were 5 points lower than in 1992. That should be enough proof that all children can benefit from a better method of instruction.
My daughter is non-verbal. How long do I wait until I start teaching her reading?
You do not need to wait at all. Just because your daughter has delayed (or little) speech does not mean she cannot hear and process sounds. Nor does it mean she cannot see print. We don’t have to be able to speak to read. After all, most of our time is spent reading silently. You can still evaluate her understanding of your instruction, for instance, by having her show you the words/phrases as you say them rather than having her produce the sounds/words/phrases verbally.
My son is in a special education kindergarten class. I have been using your program with him at home with great success. The teacher uses sight words and consonant-vowel-consonant books. How can I get her to use phonograms?
First go to the teacher and show her what you have been doing at home. Show her how effectively your son is putting sounds together to read words. Ask her to incorporate the program into his reading instruction. If there is resistance, you can call an Individualized Educational Plan meeting. Bring documentation regarding Orton-Gillingham-based instruction and documentation regarding your son’s progress. The term “Individualized” is there for a reason. We suggest listening to the excellent documentary “Hard to Read” produced by American Public Media. Although the program focuses on dyslexia, there is a wealth of information on the effectiveness of the Orton-Gillingham method and on parent advocacy. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you will be able to identify with many, many points that are discussed. Here is the link:
When my older children were in pre-school, they learned the ABCs in order. You don’t teach them in order. Why?
Because we want children to experience success from the very beginning, and at each step moving forward, we begin with phonograms that have only one sound. That way, when they begin blending, there is only one possible sound for each. Hence, no guessing; just success. For that reason, we teach single sounds consonants and vowel buddies before we teach two-sound consonants and multi-sound vowels. Experiencing success at the beginning means that students are more confident when moving to the more complex steps.
How long should I spend each day teaching reading?
There is no set time. Frequent, short spurts tend to be very effective. This helps with short attention spans, and helps retention. Using environment print and teachable moments are generally more meaningful than worksheets. Think circling bossy r phonograms on a menu or just making a "buddy-bet" on whether you two will pass a jEEp in the parking lot as you go from your car to the grocery store. There are also times you can create a whole activity around one phonogram such as making a weird beige shirt when studying phonogram “ei” or even spend a whole afternoon having a picnic, eating ice cream, and taking a taxi ride to teach the three sounds of ‘i.’
I don’t feel qualified to teach reading. Won’t I be hurting my child?
Parents can be a child’s most effective teacher. There is so much going on in a classroom, that individualized, direct reading instruction is limited. And ‘reading time’ occurs whether your child is in a receptive mood or not with a teacher who may or may not have been trained in best practices. You know your child’s personality; you are with your child day and night; you have the opportunity for meaningful teachable moments. You have the greatest incentive for your child’s future independence. But you have to understand how the process works. With Raising Robust Readers, you gain the knowledge and confidence to be the constant support for your child either at a desk or on the go wherever you go. For more reasons why parents should take a more hands-on approach, listen to the documentary “Hard to Read” . You will also hear about how well teachers know (or don't know!) the components of effective reading instruction as set out by the National Reading Panel in 2000 and as researched by the National Council on Teacher Quality in 2016.