The presumption that students with severe disabilities will not learn to read leads to denial of reading instruction, which results in students not learning to read (Keefe & Copeland, 2011; Ruppar, Gaffney, & Dymond, 2015). Much of the research on reading for students with severe disabilities has been focused on sight word memorization or drills in decontextualized sub-skills, rather than the broader reading/writing experiences that lead to the development of literacy skills (Erickson, Hanser, Hatch, & Sanders, 2009). For example, when children write, they attempt to read what they have written. If an adult asks the child what he or she wrote, the child will explain it. Speaking and listening occur as part of the communicative exchange.
An excellent free resource is Erickson, K., Hanser, G., Hatch, P. & Sanders, E. (2009). Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Reading and Literacy for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Does the use of picture supported text help a student develop literacy skills?
The research on the use of picture supported text has not been as favorable (Erickson, Hanser, Hatch, & Sanders, 2009; Erickson et al., 2010; Hatch, 2009). They found that nonconventional forms of literacy, such as picture-supported text, limit literacy learning in the long run and interfere with learning opportunities. Several studies have concluded that pictures slow the rate of word learning (Pufpaff, Blischak, & Lloyd, 2000; Rose & Furr, 1984; Saunder & Solman, 1984). While picture supported text provides access to content, it may actually impede the learning of reading skills.
One reason for this may be the relationship between invented spelling and later reading skill (Ouellette & Senechal, 2017). Alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness are developed through practice. If a student does not practice using letters to represent sounds when writing or work to decode printed letters to make meaning, those skills may not develop.