SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Modality and the Development of Language and Literacy of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children (Poster)
Session: Perceptual, Sensory, Motor
Authors: Amy Lederberg, Shirin Antia, Lee Branum-Martin, Carol Connor, Brenda Schick, Susan Easterbrooks
Abstract: Deaf and hard-of-hearing children (DHH) have historically shown severe language and literacy delays. With universal newborn screening and early intervention, recent studies have suggested improved outcomes, though studies report a range of functioning. The purpose of the present study was to describe DHH children’s language and literacy development during the critical years of 5 to 9 years of age using a longitudinal/cross-sectional design. The sample included 336 DHH children divided into three groups who differed in their exposure to spoken and signed language: 101 were acquiring only spoken English, 131 were acquiring only sign, and 104 were bimodal-bilingual. Children attended 40 schools and were in 103 classrooms (kindergarten-second grade). Assessors individually administered (in a child’s preferred language) 13 tests in the fall and spring of the school year.
Overall, the DHH children performed one SD below the normative mean for most tests. The DHH children were particularly weak in English productive syntax, and stronger in identifying letters and words. We conducted thirteen 3 (communication modality) x 3 (grade) x 2 (time) ANOVAs with follow-up pairwise comparisons. Because of space constraints, we only summarize some of the results. While children, on average, were delayed on all language tests, they significantly increased their standard scores across the school year. Standard scores did not increase across grade. Raw score gains suggest this may be because DHH children made slower progress during the summer than is typical of hearing children. There was only minimal effects of communication modality on vocabulary and receptive English syntax. DHH children who sign and those who were bimodal made gains in receptive syntax in both English and ASL. Spoken language-only children made additional gains in productive English syntax, though they remained severely-delayed. Overall, DHH children started school with age-appropriate literacy skills. As reading became more complex, DHH children’s standard scores declined across the year and across grade. DHH children who sign only consistently scored lower on reading compared to DHH children who were acquiring spoken language (with or without sign). By the spring of second grade, sign-only children had an average standard score of 68, significantly lower than either the spoken only or the bimodal group. DHH children who sign (both unimodal and bimodal) make similar progress on tests of fingerspelling abilities, but not on spoken phonological awareness. Sign-only children were very delayed on a nonverbal test of spoken phonological awareness; while bimodal children and spoken language-only children performed similarly on this test.
This study shows that many of the current generation of DHH students are still delayed in language and literacy. Gains made by DHH children across the school year suggest that teachers are successful in facilitating children’s language development but not reading. The results also suggest that the use of sign language does not impede learning to read, but the lack of access to spoken sublexical structure makes learning to read English more difficult. In contrast, lack of access to speech does not interfere with DHH children’s acquisition of language.