Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reading and Deafness

I remember the first time I heard that the average 18-to-19 year old deaf student reads at the level of an average 8-to-9 year old hearing student and that most deaf students graduate high school reading at a fourth grade level.

This was shocking news.  I could not wrap my mind around why this should be true.  My instructor wisely told me to remember that feeling of disbelief because as I continued on with my studies two things would happen.

The first being that my "passionate wonder" would influence the direction of my future research. Slowly,  I would come to understand the reasons behind such statistics and explore ways to ameliorate the outcome.

The second reason is that as I journeyed on and shared this information with others, who would inevitably experience the same reaction, I could hearken back to my initial response to deconstruct the woof and warp behind the numbers with greater clarity.

The truth is, there are many contributing factors. It is beyond the scope of this post to delve into the miasma surrounding the political influences shaping the history of deaf education in America but there are a couple of basic truths I will address.
  1. Reading English is based on the alphabetic principle which basically consists of mapping sounds onto letters in a systematic fashion.  This is obviously a challenge for a child who has limited access to the phonological aspect of language.
  2. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. This generally results in children who are delayed in developing a first language.  The process a hearing parent goes through when they find out they have a deaf child has been likened to the seven stages of grief.  As the parents journey towards acceptance the child lingers and precious time is lost.  For deaf children with deaf parents developing a strong first language with American Sign Language reading does not present the challenges deaf children with hearing parents experience.
So what can you do? Read to your children. Discuss the pictures. Interact in loving, caring ways around books. Provide opportunities in everyday experiences for playing with print such as writing shopping lists or following simple recipes.

And most of all, do not be afraid of doing it wrong.  If you have a loving heart, you can do no wrong.


Betsy Brock said...

What an interesting post. My older sister dated a deaf guy for several years. Our whole family learned sign language as a result. Really a nice experience. I had no idea about the reading levels. Wow.

With my hearing, autistic boys, we've started using some sign language with them. It words very well for nonverbal kids!

Anonymous said...

Do you think IEP (signed or spoken) improve the statistics?

I know it's even harder when a parents discovered that speaking and listening isn't working back in those days and they have to start over again at square one on language building through ASL. Imagine learning ASL level 1 at 4th grade. (which is why I believe IEP should provide both in case one of it doesn't work out, the child can continue to learn using the other method)

Gary said...

Betsy - What a great family you must have! Signing is great for nonverbal kids. I know of several hearing children who started to sign because they were speech delayed for one reason or another.

Anon - I am an advocate for IEP that provide a signed environment for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and also for speech and language services. Ideally, I would love to see more children attending a dual language school like mine where both English and American Sign Language are utilized and developed. Unfortunately, by the time children are in school and have an IEP precious time has been wasted without proper language role models for these children. I totally support the use of ASL as early as possible to build a strong language base.

Dumdad said...

"And most of all, do not be afriad of doing it wrong."

(Like spelling afraid wrong. You weren't afraid!)

That sentence is so true and I love your last sentence: "If you have a loving heart, you can do no wrong."

How right that is whether you have hearing children or deaf children.

I've got many things wrong with my kids but they know I love them.

Afsana said...

Like your blogspot.

Pat Hatt said...

Yep never going to do everything right
Just an unattainable height
All one can try as their best
And do everything they can to help them pass each test
Those reading levels are amazing
Some new kind of trail blazing
Needs to be set forth too
To up those levels by quite a few

Miss Kat's Parents said...

Actually, there is research that shows that even kids who have ASL from the start struggle with reading. The problem is that they are reading a language that they do not use for face to face communication, a language that they are not fluent in.

I read this article and it was very insightful.

Miss Kat's Parents said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miss Kat's Parents said...

Sorry for all the comments, but I couldn't get the link to work. One more try:

Gary said...

Miss Kat - Thanks for the link. I am so in love with The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Thank goodness as a doctoral student I can read it online because I looked into getting it sent to my home and it is EXPENSIVE! In my post I didn't mean to give the impression that children who know ASL do not struggle with learning to read and one of the problems stems from the reason you mentioned. However, it is easier to learn to read if there is an established language base, whatever it is. Thanks again for your input. I hopped over to your blog and find it very interesting. I shall be visiting you often.

Pat Hatt - It amazes and amuses me every time you cleverly string together rhymes when commenting.

Dumdad - As a teacher I encounter issue of parents not reading to their child because they don't want to mess it up. It is a hard mindset to break for some parents. Thanks for pointing out the typo - I actually found another one after you commented and they have both been corrected. :)

Anonymous said...

Gary, thanks for your answer on my questions about IEP.

And I 100% agree with you about reading to your kids. I advocate it all the time as I know if I didn't read to my son from the moment he was born, he would not love reading today. He is 10 years old and he read everyday all day, yet he is one of those kids who are into video games, if you know what I mean. We had a bonding and great memories from storytimes together. I found that deaf kids who love to read, rather their first language is ASL, SEE, or spoken English, seem to write beyond 4th grade level. And you have kids who don't like to read, and they seem to be in greater risk. if parents read to them, they are actually helping them develop the love for reading. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

have you read this research:

btw, let me introduce you to deaf who I believe theirs first language is ASL

and there is more. thought I would share w/ you.

and to the parents, they may be interested in this site:

Gary said...

Anon - These are some great resources! Thanks for sharing. I am really thrilled with the feedback on this post because it has brought me some interesting material to read and explore. I appreciate your input.

Anonymous said...

two more to explore (if you haven't do so), can't leave anyone out LOL
That's it, I'll leave you alone now.

Gary said...

Anon - These are great. Thanks again.


Related Posts with Thumbnails