Toronto — Early findings from a Ryerson University study show that children with hearing loss may benefit greatly when parents read to them using American Sign Language (ASL).

“One more story” is a common refrain in families with young children who love to read. But children who are deaf or have some form of hearing loss often miss out on this activity because their parents may not know how to use ASL when they read to them.

Kristin Snoddon (pictured, right), a postdoctoral fellow in Ryerson University’s School of Early Childhood Education (ECE), is leading a 10-month research project to teach hearing parents of deaf children how to read children’s classics using ASL.

“Shared reading and parent-child interaction are critical supports for improving literacy skills,” said Snoddon, who is deaf. “This recognizes that reading, writing, and ASL development can happen concurrently. Through this process, children’s literacy skills can improve by being simultaneously exposed to ASL storytelling and reading with their parents.”

Supervised by ECE professor Kathryn Underwood (pictured, left), Snoddon is running a series of workshops for parents and preschool-age children taught by deaf instructors who are proficient in both ASL and English.

Ryerson’s Early Learning Centre workshops teach strategies for shared reading to hearing parents and their children.

Some of these reading strategies include:

  • teaching parents how to use ASL to retain their children’s visual attention;
  • encouraging parents to ask questions;
  • eliciting parent contributions to the reading process; and
  • discussing the illustrations to expand the child’s vocabulary and world knowledge.

As a result, noted Snoddon, “children who have books read to them using sign language are exposed to a greater range of vocabulary than is available through conversation only."

According to Snoddon, programs for supporting shared reading with ASL have seldom been offered in Canada. Moreover, clinical professionals in Ontario frequently do not support young deaf children in learning ASL, believing that it will prevent them from learning how to speak.

“Research actually shows that ASL has a positive relationship to spoken language development in deaf children,” said Snoddon.

Participating in an early intervention program, however, may do more than improve deaf children’s literacy skills. For example, families in Snoddon’s study are becoming more involved in the deaf ASL community and are meeting other parents who wish to learn ASL to support their deaf children.

“Parents also meet with several deaf adults who have expertise in bilingual (ASL and English) education, and learn about ASL and ASL literacy,” said Snoddon. “Regularly meeting with deaf adults provides parents and children with first-language and cultural models. They benefit from enhanced communication and social development.”

Snoddon also said that deaf professionals, such as educators, administrators, and psychologists, are key to the success of early intervention programs, and must be involved at every stage of the process, a level of involvement that’s currently missing in Ontario.

SOURCE: Ryerson University