Over the years I have worked with a number of children with cognitive challenges. Learning their ABCs is a difficult task and learning the sound associations for the letters can be even more difficult. In addition to working with this population I was also simultaneously working with children who had Apraxia, a motor speech disorder, and children with various delays or disorders in speech production. I observed that almost all of the children, even some of the ones with Apraxia could imitate environmental sounds such as animal noises, car sounds, etc. I had been using a purchased product called Easy Does It for Apraxia. In this program each speech sound is assigned an environmental sound in order to help the pre-literate child learn their target sound. ("K" is the dinosaur sound since dinosaurs were so large that they crashed "k-k-k" when they walked). This is not a novel idea since Speech Pathologists have always used this method (I learned it 30 years ago as an undergraduate). But since I was working with this specific program I adopted most of the sounds they used (even though some of them were less than ideal). This is when I realized I had at least three clients in my caseload with varying degrees of cognitive impairments and all of their mothers were asking me about literacy skills for their children. All of these children had already spent several years in school trying to learn by traditional methods. These methods were not working for them. Most schools use the correspondence of the intial sound of a word to teach the phonic sound of the alphabet: A-apple, B-banana... As an SLP working with speech sounds, I understood how difficult it can be for some neurotypical children to understand word and sound segmentation and that children with cognitive impairments would also struggle with this task.
The SLP neurons started firing and I tried to devise another method for my clients. Most of these clients were able to learn the basic sound symbol associations using this devised strategy. Those with milder impairments eventually understood enough of the basic skills and then went on into learning literacy skills by more traditional methods. The children with greater cognitive issues all learned the sound symbol correspondences but did not really go on to be literate. However, they did learn enough to be able to use prediction settings on various devices since they could identify initial sounds and basic vowels in order to key in word portions. In this way they did develop rudimentary phonics skills. I understand that most cognitively impaired children are taught primarily by sight word methods, however I still feel there is a benefit to having some basic phonics skills.
My disclaimer in presenting this idea here is: Always attempt traditional methods for literacy development, but if those methods fail over time, this is an alternative method that could be tried to teach the basic skills. This method is to serve as a bridge to understanding sound-symbol correspondence and then pick up more traditional methods when possible. One more important note: The limited time in speech therapy sessions is not adequate for learning this, copies of all must be sent home with the parent to work with their child at home.
Step 5: Phonemic Awareness - Sounds in words: At this point I had a magnetic board with magnetic squares of the alphabet. I wrote the alphabet on the board with a Sharpie and arranged the letters in alphabetic order (So that they could return the letters to their proper places in the sequence, making them easier to locate when needed and to further reinforce alphabetical order). We then began working on c-v and v-c combinations (real and nonsense words). I would say /æ/ ("a") and the child would place the A, then /t/ and the child would place the T. Then we would run our finger smoothly under the word to blend the letters into "at". I worked on blending immediately to avoid the child segmenting the sounds during production. (It always drives me crazy when a child has not learned to blend sounds smoothly.) Once two sound combinations were mastered we proceeded to c-v-c words: "h-a-t". I worked in word families to increase success: at, hat, bat, cat, mat,...
Step 6: Phonemic Awareness - Initial sound changes in words: Once that skill was mastered we worked on word changes. At first I only worked on intitial sound changes. "Spell the word "at"; add a sound to make it say "hat"; change "hat" to "bat"." Word changes required some help initially with lots of verbal cues (added emphasis, reps of initial sounds...) but once they understood to listen to the first sound and segment it back out of the word then replace it with another letter they were hearing, they were able to be independent.
Step 7: Phonemic Awareness - Final sound changes: Same as above but at the end of the words. Once again they learned that sound changes can occur at beginning and ends of words. Then I would mix up the two positions: "Make the word 'in'. Now make it say 'pin'. Change 'pin' to 'pit'. Change 'pit' to 'hit'."
Step 8: Phonemic Awareness - Medial sound/vowel changes: Now they understoond that any sound in the word could change and their ears were able to listen and hear what those sounds were. We then mixed it up and played with changes everywhere in the word: Spell "hat"; change it to "bat"; now "cat", now "cap", "tap", "top" "tip".....
Step 10: Hooked on Phonics: At this point the child is ready for more traditional methods and the program I had on hand was the Hooked on Phonics program. This program pulled in diphthongs, sight words, and other spellings.