The task of learning to read is more difficult for children who can’t hear, but it is also more crucial that they do so. Literacy skills are invaluable for people that are deaf or hard-of-hearing, as they depend more on written means of communicating, such as emails and telecommunication devices for the telephone, later in life. Reading also brings countless other benefits to children in terms of language awareness and expansion. With this in mind, the importance of reading aloud to deaf and hard-of-hearing children–and instilling a love of reading early on–cannot be underestimated. And a group of volunteers from the South Florida Deaf Recreation Association, along with “Billy the Marlin”, are doing just that. Read on to find out more about this pro-literacy team and their read-aloud program that is making a positive impact throughout the region.
What makes reading so difficult for deaf and hard-of-hearing children?
Research shows that hearing loss can have a serious negative impact on the development of literacy skills. According to a poll taken in 2000, less than half of the deaf students graduating from high school had reached a fifth-grade level in reading and writing skills. There are several factors that make reading and acquiring new language difficult for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, resulting in a language gap between these children and their hearing peers. Here are just a few of the challenges facing deaf and hard-of-hearing readers:
- Grammar: American Sign Language has its own grammatical rules, with different syntax and word order than English. Children who do not hear the rules of English over and over during their daily routines may find it difficult to read sentences in English.
- Phonetics: Some deaf children, even with amplification, are not able to hear many of the speech sounds. Not being able to sound out words phonetically makes it harder to categorize, remember, and assign meaning to words.
- Vocabulary: Many children simply do not know the vocabulary because it is not in their
immediate world, they have not been taught it, or picked it up incidentally through listening. This vocabulary deficit is tied to a lack of background knowledge, which makes it difficult to predict or infer meaning, and comprehend a text as a whole.
It’s easy to see how reading could become a chore for a child grappling with so many additional language challenges. But learning that reading can be fun and exciting, at an early age, can go a long way towards helping deaf and hard-of-hearing children meet these challenges.
“Stories that spark the imagination” — South Florida Deaf Recreation Association Spreads the Literary Love
Auburndale Elementary School in Little Havana recently welcomed Billy the Marlin and volunteers from the South Florida Deaf Recreation Association, who shared tales in American Sign Language (ASL). Their aim was to help the children “discover stories that spark their imagination and show them how fun reading can be.”
Volunteer Barbara Chotiner-Solano, a former teacher for hearing-impaired students, said that she has “seen first-hand that when read-aloud sessions are enjoyable, it is more likely the children will retain positive associations with books.” Ms. Chotiner-Solano’s favorite part of volunteering comes at the end of the event: watching the students rush to open their gift bags to find the book that was read to them, so they can read it again.
Patty Pero and Andy Altman, along with Chotiner-Solano, led a reading time which transformed into an impromptu theater performance, with students impersonating animals and characters from the stories. Another exciting moment came when Billy the Marlin gave each child the book that was shared with the group, along with a baseball-shaped tote bag, a soft baseball, a Christmas hat, cookies shaped in the “I love you” sign, and other books to take home.
Victor Solano, who is president of the local Deaf Recreation Association and also deaf, attended the storytime as well. He believes that deaf children are often underserved in the community and strives to give back. Solano and his group give free books, literacy support, and school supplies to students, to help foster the love of learning and reading. He says that what motivates him is “the magic that happens when you give books to children…eyes sparkle, smiles emerge and imagination comes alive.”
For more information on hearing loss and to schedule an annual hearing test, contact us at Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center.