For students with intellectual disability, functional skills are often prioritized over academics, but a new study finds that children with low IQ are capable of learning to read.

With persistence and specialized instruction, researchers found that kids with mild to moderate intellectual disability can read at a first-grade level or better. They say the results could have life-changing implications for thousands of students with low IQ.

“If these children, and any other struggling readers, can learn to read, that means they can go grocery shopping with a shopping list, read the labels on boxes and cans and read basic instructions,” said Jill Allor of Southern Methodist University who led the study published in the journal Exceptional Children. “Even minimal reading skills can lead to a more independent life and improved job opportunities.”

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For the study, researchers followed a group of 141 kids with IQ scores ranging from 40 to 80, all of whom were able to speak. Of those studied, 76 students received 40 to 50 minutes of intensive reading instruction daily in small groups with no more than four students to each teacher. The remaining 65 students were provided standard lessons with varying levels of reading instruction.

After four years, the students who received the specialized instruction performed significantly better on a variety of reading tests compared to those who participated in the traditional lessons, the study found.

What’s more, researchers said that IQ did not predict a child’s ability to read. While students with higher IQ scores generally improved more quickly, there were cases where children with lower IQ scores outperformed their peers with higher scores.

“This study demonstrates the potential of students with intellectual disability or low IQ to achieve meaningful literacy goals,” Allor said, adding that the findings prove “we should never give up on anyone.”

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