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Facilitating reading and writing in children with intellectual impairments: A South African study of Blissymbolics

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This presentation will address how a special-needs educator at a school for children with intellectual impairments in South Africa is exploring the use of Blissymbolics as an approach to teaching children with intellectual impairments to read. The children in this class range between the ages of 13 and 18, with an intellectual age range of 6 to 14 years. It is a linguistically diverse cohort with first languages which include Afrikaans, Swati, Zulu, Sotho, Tsonga and English.

This presentation will be twofold: firstly it will address the teacher’s discovery of using Blissymbolics in this classroom and will describe the unexpected positive impact it has had on the children’s reading ability and overall development. Secondly, research to be carried out in this classroom will be presented. The use of Blissymbolics in South Africa, as both a means for communication and as an educational tool, is not prevalent, rendering this classroom an invaluable space for research.

The research proposal puts forward the following issues for exploration: 1) how metalinguistic, linguistic and cognitive skills correlate with the children’s ability to acquire Blissymbolics; 2) what underlying principles/ characteristics of the Blissymbolics system may be having an impact on the metalinguistic, linguistic and cognitive skills; 3) address adaptations and additions needed to facilitate the use of Blissymbolics with morphologically rich languages like Bantu languages and 4) how best to optimise the teaching of Blissymbolics as an aid for reading in alphabetic orthographies in children who have an intellectual impairment.


Kristin van der Merwe    
Rhodes University
South Africa

Louisa Alberts    
Platoorand Special Needs High School
South Africa


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