Studies that examine the different rates of literacy learning between children who are DHH and their typically hearing peers often provide a stark picture of the literacy landscape and how it is impacted by hearing loss. Stanislas Dehaene, in his book Reading in the Brain. The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention (2009) suggests that literacy and communication skills are related at such a fundamental level that a developing brain needs to be exposed to 20,000 hours of spoken language in order to get ready to read. This kind of exposure can be difficult when access to hearing is limited.
- In order to gain full access to body of knowledge available to hearing peers, students who are DHH will have to be able to read and write in English. The reality is that fluency in a minority language, such as ASL is not enough for full access to larger culture (Marschark, 2007).
- However, children who have early exposure to language have a stronger foundation in place once they begin to develop literacy skills at school. During this early stage it doesn’t matter if the child is communicating in English (or other oral language), ASL, or a combination of the two. What matters is that parents and caregivers immerse their child in language.
- In her research, based on evidence from standardized testing, Traxler (2000) suggests that 50 percent of 18-year-old students who are DHH read at, or below a fourth grade level.
- One surprise in the research is that most children who are DHH have decent “decoding” skills This result is somewhat surprising as this process involves knowing how letters sound. Marschark (2007) suggests student strengths might be a result of the combined use of information students gain from fingerspelling, residual hearing, speechreading, articulation, and exposure to writing.” I can attest to this – my son has excellent decoding skills – simply from all those years of speech therapy where he worked on sounds and letters in isolation.
- Students who are DHH often struggle with vocabulary and grammar. This should come as no surprise. Both of these skills are depend upon repetition in everyday situations. The more words a child hears the larger their vocabulary. The more a child reads and communicates the stronger these skills will become.
While these are some of the literacy realities that children who are DHH face, it’s important to remember that each child experiences their hearing loss as an individual. There is no “one way” to teach reading and writing. Numerous variables impact how each child will learn and access information.
- Influence of early language environment
- Degree of hearing loss
- Parent motivation
- Age when hearing loss was detected
- Personality and aptitude of child
- Residual hearing
- Other developmental/behavioral issues that might be part of a larger diagnosis
My intent with providing this information is not to discourage parents. Instead, the intent is to educate parents and to present a challenge to them so they can help their child overcome literacy obstacles.
Parents need to be fully involved in enriching their child’s language environment. However, this language enrichment doesn’t need to be anything extra that you have to do, so much of it is simply taking advantage of everyday moments. The next couple of posts will provide tips and strategies to help you do so.
Marschark, M (2007) Raising and Educating a Deaf Child: A Comprehensive Guide to the Choice, Controversies, and Decisions Faced by Parents and Educators. New York: Oxford University Press
Traxler, C (2000) Measuring up to performance standards in reading and mathematics: Achievement of selected deaf and hard of hearing students in the national norming of the 9th edition Stanford Achievement Test. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 337-348.