Strategies and Tools for Pupils with Additional Support Needs

Is reading pleasurable for everyone? What if you cannot concentrate, cannot sit still, get frustrated because you can’t decode the words or don’t like being in close physical proximity of another person?  There are many challenges to overcome when thinking of how to develop literacy for children with additional support needs who experience any or all of the above.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Pupils with ADHD often have an inability to screen out extraneous visual or auditory stimuli and, as a result, are unable to focus on an activity such as reading a book or having a book read to them. Even if the topic of the book has been carefully chosen to pique their interest, their poor sustained attention can result in hyperactive, impulsive behaviour.

Front cover of an issue of Dekko Comics
For these students, it may be worth exploring educational comics such as the colourful and entertaining Dekko Comics. They were created by Rossie Stone, a young man who struggled at school with reading and absorbing information – and still finds it difficult to concentrate on text. He came up with the idea of doing sketches to represent facts for revision purposes and it worked for him. 

In a classroom scenario, it is important to set clear, simple learning and behavioural expectations:

‘We are going to be reading this book all about your favourite game / activity / place and I want you to listen for any new vocabulary’.

‘We are all going to listen carefully and if we hear a new word, then raise your hand to get my attention.’

And importantly, checking for their understanding of the instructions and periodically following up with reminders. A pupil with ADHD may require an object to fidget with to help focus on the reading / listening task. It’s all about setting up an inclusive learning environment which allows the pupil to feel comfortable, supported and calm enough to engage with books and enjoy the literary experience. The pupil could choose a physical book to read or be encouraged to listen to an audio book through headphones so as to be physically ‘attached’ to the listening task.


Physical books can be a barrier to learning for someone who is ‘print disabled’ i.e. a person with dyslexia. Previous blog posts by my colleagues, Allan Wilson and Craig Mill, talk about finding accessible, digital texts from the Books for All database and how to make PDFs easier to read. 

Text to Speech graphic

There are so many assistive technology solutions to support someone with dyslexia which will allow them to meaningfully engage with books and develop their literacy. Using a text-to-speech program for digital texts is a great way for pupils to not have to struggle with the task of decoding words but to actually listen to the story while (ideally) seeing the words highlight as they are read out. ‘Experiencing the text bi-modally (visually and aurally) enables poor readers to perform as well as skilled readers in word recognition and retention’ (Lewandowski and Montali, 1996).

We love the new free Learning Tools in MS Word 2016 and One Note. The Immersive Reader functionality (see below) presents text on a non-cluttered page with personalised background colour and highlights the words as they are read out loud. All school pupils in Scotland have a Glow account and so are eligible to download MS Office 2016 on home machines (PC, Mac, phones and tablets) for free.  More people should know about this! 

Immersive Reader option shown on the Microsoft Word ribbon







Promoting literacy skills can, in some cases, improve the verbal abilities of children with autism who don’t have effective communication. It is good practice to model the importance of words that appear in our everyday environment (notices, menus, signs etc) so that autistic children learn about the purpose of reading and writing.

During a recent assessment visit with a young autistic boy who was having difficulty settling to his reading task, I noticed an obvious shift in motivation when I introduced the use of an iPad and the Claro ScanPen app to photograph pages of his reading book. The image is converted to text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology and when you drag your finger over the text it is read out loud. I modelled how to do this, then the boy did it for each line of the text and repeated each line as after it was read aloud. This was a level of engagement that was not there without the use of technology and it was exciting to see his pleasure at being an independent reader / learner.

A book, scanned into the Claro Scan Pen app, being read aloud by an Ipad
There are many technology solutions for pupils with particular needs and challenges, many of which should be standard on school computers and devices.  Check out our Are you Meeting Your Legal Requirements for Computer Accessibility document  - not only is it the law, it’s good practice to ensure you are best supporting pupils with additional support needs.


CALL Scotland have written a range of other blog posts for our site to help make reading more accessible for pupils. Find these posts and more in our collected blog posts for additional support needs

Looking for some great graphic novel recommendations? You can find them in our book lists section - find all of our lists for additional support needs here.


Top image by Annie Spratt on

Shirley Lawson

Shirley Lawson is a Development Officer for Assistive Technology and Additional Support Needs at CALL Scotland.