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Reading and Dyslexia in Deaf Children

Herman, R., Roy, P. & Kyle, F. E. (2017). Reading and Dyslexia in Deaf Children. London UK: Nuffield Foundation; City University London.


Literacy difficulties are more widespread among deaf children than hearing children but reasons for their problems differ. Hearing children are likely to be described as dyslexic and once diagnosed, may benefit from specialist support. However, for deaf children, their hearing difficulties are seen as primary. In this Briefing Paper, we report findings from a two-phase research study on deaf children’s reading, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Phase 1 focused on a large sample of 82 same-age deaf children aged 10-11 years who communicated using spoken language (oral deaf children) and Phase 2, on a sample of 59 same-age deaf children who used sign language to communicate (signing deaf children). Our analysis identified that literacy scores in both deaf groups were lower than expected for their age, and lower in the signing group compared to the oral group. An exception was the small group of signing children with two deaf parents, who achieved reading levels comparable to oral deaf children. Overall, 48% of the oral group and 82% of the signing children were reading below age level. Scores for spelling were better than reading but in both groups, many children had below average scores. In both groups, literacy outcomes were associated with phonological skills and language. Profiles of poor readers in each group were similar, and displayed low scores on English expressive vocabulary and phonological measures. Using our hearing dyslexic participants as a reference group, we were able to identify dyslexia-sensitive measures that were effective in differentiating poor readers in the oral deaf sample since children in the oral deaf group were able to access the full range of measures developed for hearing children. Identification of a dyslexic profile among the signing participants was more complex as different phonological measures were used that did not rely on speech perception or production, and also because of their very low scores on many of the measures: the percentage of poor readers with scores falling below -2 SDs was nearly four times higher in the signing group compared with the oral deaf group, accounting for nearly a quarter of the signing sample. Our findings highlight the scale of reading difficulties in deaf children. Regardless of communication approach, all deaf poor readers are in urgent need of specialist intervention to address the deficits underlying poor literacy. Interventions known to be effective with hearing children with reading difficulties should also be used with deaf poor readers. In addition, deaf children require support to develop their language skills. Our findings also suggest that spelling, a relative strength in deaf children, may offer a useful route to improving literacy in this group.

Publication Type: Report
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
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