Developing the motor skills for reading books.
Written and read by Giorgena Sarantopoulos

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM

Books were my pass to personal freedom. – Oprah Winfrey

Books!  Who doesn’t love them?  Enfolding oneself in a good story can have an effect on the whole body: masterfully crafted sentences can stir and soothe, unexpected scenarios and dialogue can cause hearts to race, goosebumps to erupt, tears to flow, and laughs to be out-loud!  There are people who savor the sensory experiences that spring up when clutching a stack of bound and numbered sheets in a hardcover or paperback.  Then there are those that read books using other senses that meet their own preferences or individual needs.  Any way you choose to enjoy a good book is going to be the most wonderful waste of your time!  

For book lovers with motor planning disorders like apraxia, there are so many options to develop literacy and enjoy all kinds of books, but some of these book lovers still want to develop their reading skills, and this blog addresses that particular goal.

I-ASC’s Neuroliterature Summer Reading Campaign of 2020 and our current Neuromedia Summer 2021 remind us that literature can be accessed in a growing variety of ways.  Research reviews consistently confirm that reading a book with your eyes is not a requirement in developing literacy.  Physical reading is something that is taken for granted by those of us who can execute this motor action with little difficulty unless there are vision issues that are not related to motor function (like needing glasses).  Reading itself can be a motor function and it can be a cognitive function as long as you can understand what you are reading for example you are reading in a language you understand).  Developing literacy is only a cognitive process.  This parallels the S2C mantra that speech is a motor function and language is a cognitive process.  In either circumstance, the motor function is not a prerequisite to cognition or comprehension.  No one needs to be a paperback reader!

In the spellerverse, parents often ask, how can my child spell but not read? Good question, parents!  The best way to answer this question is with a visual demonstration.  For those listening to my blogcast, I will describe the following text boxes as best as I can.

Eye movement matters!  If your speller is around 7 years of age or older and has had access to general reading material, I will strongly suspect they can read or can follow the direction to read from left to right, the following words:

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM[Image description: centered in a textbox in large plain sans-serif boldface black font, in full caps are the words, DEAR SIR] 

Now let’s make the eyes move across the box a little more, from left to right.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM[Image description: centered in a second box in the same large sans-serif, boldface black font, in full caps and generously spaced, are the words DEAR SIR OR MADAM]

When we can see words, whether by a glance or because the words stand out on a page, those that can read (as a motor process) typically follow the words from left to right to the end of the line, then down one line and back to the left margin, and read across to the end of that line… in this way we read multiple lines and paragraphs without unreliable movement of the eyes.  It makes sense that children learning to read start with one line at a time.  Even teachers may not realize they are helping to develop ocular motor function when they share early reading books with large, clean text, minimal words, and single lines.  Those of you who have ocular motor apraxia may be able to read the words in both of the text boxes above, but you would probably have a lot more difficulty reading this:

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM[Image description: The third text box contains multiple lines of words aligned at the left margin, in light purple, condensed font that has varied line widths in each letter, without extra line spacing, which words say the lyrics “Dear sir or madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, and I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer!”
(Lyrics by McCartney/Lennon
Paperback Writer lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)]

Using techniques from children’s “spot the differences” activity books, locate and think about the differences between the three textboxes with lyrics from this excellent Beatles song.  Now consider all you know about ocular motor apraxia (or what you will learn from
this brilliant blog by the inimitable Dana Johnson) and you will probably discover on your own why reading words and being able to spell them is so different from reading longer sentences, multiple lines, and paragraphs.  Add other visual effects like a busy font, vibrant color, watermarks or logos, or a variety of all these things on one page, and it will certainly exacerbate the complexity.  

As you have experienced yourself or can gather by now, trying to coordinate the movement for reading can have devastating results for our fellow humans with ocular motor apraxia (and that doesn’t even include turning the pages at the right time!).  Thank goodness there are alternatives to reading with the eyes!


OK spellers, many of you can and want to practice reading lines and paragraphs.  There is a right way to get this going.  Reading is another purposeful motor skill that can be developed through a combination of tailored motor coaching and thoughtful creativity.  If you are a fluent speller, you have already developed your ocular motor neurons enough to follow the letters and spell at a consistent speed most of the time, therefore you are an ideal candidate for reading development, if you have prioritized this as YOUR OWN  personal goal.  

While reading sentences and paragraphs is an advanced skill we can teach “off the boards” using some S2C fundamentals, it is one that we try to reserve for spellers in the application phase (those are spellers that are fluently spelling or typing out their open-ended thoughts with more than one partner, in most environments).  This is because application phase spellers would have already overcome the usual ocular motor obstacles and have acquired a visual-motor tolerance that one would encounter in trying to develop the motor for reading.  They can move their eyes around on the letterboard purposefully, so they are already many steps ahead and will not fatigue as easily as someone in the acquisition phases.

There are S2C practitioners that are experienced in coaching ocular motor development for reading.  This is an advanced skill and one that can be supported online.  It would be best to seek a practitioner that has some experience with supporting reading and at least get started on the right foot and be able to circle back to that practitioner for follow-ups.  Check with I-ASC for recommendations.

If you are considering seeking professional support for reading, here are some things to think about first: 

  1. When to start: Some spellers have noted that dysregulation may affect the reliability of ocular movement and funky ocular movement may affect dysregulation, so it is best to consider the time of day when the speller/reader is typically feeling calm.  Some spellers may be more successful practicing after sleep; others may feel that they are at their best after some fast and furious exercise.  Figure out what is the ideal time for you.
  2. What you need: trusted direction/guidance, and motor assistance to create readable passages through a variety of techniques; you need a trustworthy partner that will respect what you want to read and how far you want to go with this goal.  
  3. Once your reading interests are determined, appropriate reading material should be located or created as prescribed by your S2C practitioner.  Not only should it be age-appropriate, but it must be visually adapted to your progression.

CAUTION: It’s really important not to pile up advanced skills goals at once.  Each and every one of them is exhausting and requires regular attention to develop properly.  We advise that spellers select one advanced skill goal at a time.  Pushing a speller to work on independent typing, reading, and speech at the same time is unreasonable and can lead to some serious problems.


If you are in the acquisition stages of spelling (acquiring the skills to get to open and fluent), it is wise to start with developing ocular motor skills with fun exercises and activities mentioned in Dana’s blog.  After those activities become easier, to start familiarizing the eyes with the left-to-right motion of reading, you can also start doing the following:

  1. Coach the motor of reading with posters that can be taped or pinned to a wall or board.  Create your own posters rather than buying one and reading the same content over and over (for the same reason why we don’t teach spellers the same lessons over and over: BORING!).  Buy a large-sheet sketchbook from a discount store.  Start with clearly printing a few words on one line.  Then, add a couple more words to that same line to make it longer.  Coach the ocular motor, left-to-right, reading the line.     
  2. Move to two lines on a poster, or start typing and printing out sentences on computer paper.  Keep it interesting: use inspirational quotes or even some jokes!  Cover the second line while you read the first, and when you get to the end (at the right margin) of the first line, try coaching the eyes to go down and start reading again at the left margin of the second line.S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM
  3. It is often difficult to find age-appropriate or interesting books with the font size you need.  If you want to practice with books, try finding coffee table books or something like Guinness World Records books that have several items on one page. These pages are often very busy, so be sure to isolate sections and work on reading the headlines only (see image).  The reading partner or communication regulation partner can then read the rest of the text under the headline, to give the speller’s eyes a rest so they can read the next headline.  
  4. Hold or set the reading material upright and centered to the body, at a comfortable height,  Your speller will be better at tracking lower than the eye level.
  5. If you start training the eyes to move from the right margin back down and to the left, make sure the content is at least double-spaced at first.

These are just tips for early practice.  If you are a super-fluent speller and are serious about making reading your goal (*cough cough*, not your parent’s goal) contact the I-ASC offices to connect you to a practitioner that knows how to get you started and support this goal.

Now tell me, what do you want to read first?

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPMGiorgena Sarantopoulos is an S2C Practitioner in Toronto, Canada.  

“I love The Beatles and my favorite author is Fyodor Dostoyevsky.”



The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

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