Adult literacy materials?
January 15, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

What books could you recommend that might help a slightly mentally challenged adult start learning to read?

I'm asking this on behalf of my mother. She knows a young man who's about 25 years old, but cannot read. Although you cannot tell at first impression, he is slightly developmentally disabled. Unfortuantely, neither I nor she knows the exact nature of his disability.

The man asked my mom if she knew of any way he might be able to learn to read. She's already recommended people he speak to, and programs he might consider, etc... but she'd like to give him a gift. And that gift would be some books that might help him to begin learning how to read.

The hard part is finding books that
a) don't already require you to be able to read
b) aren't babyish, cartoonish, or otherwise childish-looking (he is sensitive about this)

The man has no computer access. He probably has access to a CD player. He may or may not have a literate adult to help him go through the materials.

Can anybody recommend any books (or books with a CD companion, for example) that might fit the bill?

Much appreciated! This is so much better than taking a stab in the dark on Amazon!
posted by graytona to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe one of the shorter novellas of Steinbeck (e.g., The Pearl) or Hemingway (e.g., The Old Man and the Sea )? They're both written in simple, plain language without being babyish in the slightest, and they both must have audio versions as well.

It's a kind thing your mom is doing. I wish her young friend well!
posted by scody at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2009

(I should say that I don't think these books would be the very first step for him in learning to read... but I think they could be first books to read, if that makes sense, once he gets a little further along, which might make them extra-treasured down the road.)
posted by scody at 6:23 PM on January 15, 2009

I don't have specific recommendations, but maybe some "English as a Second Language" course materials would work? They'd be aimed at adults learning the language rather than children.
posted by clarahamster at 6:29 PM on January 15, 2009

I'd take a look at some Penguin Readers. They have tons of adapted classics available, many with supplemental CDs. These were very popular with adult ESL readers when I worked in a library.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:33 PM on January 15, 2009

It's not a gift, but newspapers (especially national ones like USA Today and especially The Metro) are written at a grade school level.

Actually, she could give him a subscription to the local paper. It's likely to be written simply, would be relevant and perhaps interesting, and not childish.
posted by Netzapper at 6:39 PM on January 15, 2009

Does he live in a historic area; is he interested in his city? Images of America is a series of small books that feature historic photos of a huge selection of American areas. The captions are short, but geared to an adult reading level.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:44 PM on January 15, 2009

How about comic books?
Look for something around the same level of difficulty as Sentinel, which is geared to young teenaged boys. Sentinel might not be right for your purposes, as the main character is a 15-year ol boy so your young man might not like having a younger protagonist, but something like that would be good and the illustrations would help give context to the words.
Y the Last Man is a great read with an exciting & well-paced story, not too many words, and good visuals, but it may have dialogue that goes somewhat over his head.
Anyway, any comic book store employee should be able to suggest whatever the cool tween-level action comic is these days.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:47 PM on January 15, 2009

A big thing about reading is getting a grasp on the idea of narrative, or a structured progression of ideas construed to tell a story. This can be difficult for new readers because not only are they having to, y'know, read, but they also need to keep track of characters, environments, and situations.

A great way to get this to happen (because, after all, nobody really gives a shit about what Holden Caulfield is thinking or doing) is to involve them in the narrative. To that end, might I suggest some Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy books?

I know these are targeted at younger readers, which isn't what you want (although the FF books have recently been re-released with pretty standard non-kiddie fantasy covers), but a big part of reading is being involved in the protagonist, and what better way to get a person interested in a fictional character's fate than by making them that fictional character?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:01 PM on January 15, 2009

Err, of course, this is all founded on the assumption that he already possesses basic literacy, which, as you say, he does not. So maybe just a voucher for a large bookshop? That way, the dude can go in, browse, and pick something of his own accord, maybe a book that can be his "target" book - i.e., my goal is to be literate enough to be able to read this book within six months.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:05 PM on January 15, 2009

You need to direct this dude to a public library so he can access some adult literacy resources.
posted by The Straightener at 7:13 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the newspaper idea. I don't know where this fellow's interests lay, but many years ago I was charged with tutoring a fifth-grading who was woefully behind in his reading level. I started out with basic Dr. Seuss-type books, and he rolled his eyes and his attention wandered. I eventually learned that he loved sports (baseball and basketball in particular), so on a lark (and as an effort to not treat him "like a baby," as he'd previously accused me), I showed him the sports section of the daily newspaper and invited him to read the articles. He recognized players in the picutures and I helped him to find their names in the articles. He was interested enough to struggle through the articles and did quite well. As pointed out above, there aren't too many terribly large words in the average newspaper article. This student not only read something of interest to him (sports), he also bragged to his parents that he was reading the newspaper. To be honest, I didn't know whether or not our twice-weekly sessions were truly helping him until about a month after we'd started with the newspaper - his mother proudly showed me the "Smile-O-Gram" he'd received from his teacher. It was a little certificate praising him on improving so much on his latest English test.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:45 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So sorry... I realize, I should have added that at present, I don't believe the man even knows basic phonics or the alphabet. Truly, he would be starting to learn to read.
posted by graytona at 8:08 PM on January 15, 2009

What does he like? It will be much easier for him if the material holds his interest to begin with.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:14 PM on January 15, 2009

This might sound crazy, but what about music CDs with lyrics? Reading the lyrics while listening is a great way to associate words and sounds. If you go with old standards and classics you get a higher number of songs with understandable enunciation, even.

There are a couple of truly great suggestions above...library's adult literacy materials (your mom can even check with the library to find out the most standard items, in case she'd like to buy him his own workbooks/cassettes/etc. and classics with audio accompaniment.

These sites may have more targeted & relevant ideas:
Adult Literacy Connections
Ted Power's basic literacy materials (UK English, but some of this may be useful, at least in defining approach)
NAAL (may be helpful to your mom in determining how to be of the most effective assistance)

What an excellent way to be a good steward of one's humanity. More power to your mom (and you, for helping her)! I hope the gentleman in question receives the ability to access knowledge on his own with as little pain and struggle as possible.
posted by batmonkey at 11:06 PM on January 15, 2009

I used to teach Literacy and Basic Skills to this group and we would use a combination of specialist materials and student directed choices. Our students would often come to us with a something they wanted to work on, typically this would relate to an an everyday area of their life where they faced some difficulty so we might work on reading bus timetables for example. The other thing we might do is build on an existing area of interest. Note its very rare for somebody to have *no* literacy, they might not know the alphabet but if they are interest in cars, say, they will be able to recognize different marques and people can typically recognise common brand names or restaurant logo's. We could then build on this.

Your best bet might be to identify an area of interest and get him something that relates to this, I would try and get something that he can use and relate to now, perhaps something well illustrated, with pictures that contain words he might already recognise. A magazine subscription might be good if it hooks into his interests, it will be changing source of material is not likely to be intimidating in the way a book can sometimes be.
posted by tallus at 4:55 AM on January 16, 2009

Perhaps some books aimed at adults learning English as a second language could help? They'd have adult themes and book covers, but simple vocabularies. For examle (and I haven't read this, it's just one that popped up): Sue Leather's Dirty Money book and CD set.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2009

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