Sign still falling behind oral approaches ? The British education system is neglecting the needs of severely and profoundly deaf children, many of whom have major reading difficulties, according to new research from City, University of London.
In one of the largest studies of its kind, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the researchers found that over half of the deaf children involved who communicated using spoken language and four fifths of those who used sign language had reading difficulties at least as severe as those faced by hearing children with dyslexia, and in some cases they were more severe.
There are almost 49,000 children with permanent hearing loss in the UK, many of whom have reading difficulties. This is because reading is based on spoken language, which many deaf children struggle to acquire.
As hearing difficulties are often seen as the primary issue for deaf children, underlying reading difficulties can go unnoticed, and diagnosis of dyslexia is rare. In contrast, hearing children with reading difficulties are more likely to be described as dyslexic, and once diagnosed, can benefit from evidence-based specialist support and interventions.
To investigate the impact of deafness on reading, the researchers took 129 deaf children aged between 10-11 in their final year of primary school (Year 6), 79 of whom communicated using spoken language (oral deaf), while 50 used sign language (signing deaf). This is larger than samples included in other studies. Specifically, the report found that literacy scores in both oral and signing deaf children were lower than expected for their age.
Scores were also lower in the signing group compared to the oral group, with 48% of the oral group and 82% of the signing children reading below age level, although signing children with two deaf parents scored at the same level as the oral deaf group. Scores for spelling were better in both oral and signing groups, but were still below average. In both groups, language skills were particularly weak.