Wednesday, December 23, 2009

He is Deaf and Can Read....yea really

So I often see people stating that deaf children struggle to read. This is so strange for me because it is an area where my son doesn't struggle at all in fact he is way above grade level. I know of other deaf children who also not only excel but love to read.

My son tells me that at the deaf school the other kids don't like reading and I have also been told this by many of the children.

This morning I was just thinking what is the difference? Here are some thoughts I have,

We always expected him to read. We never bought into any of the stereotypes. If you raise the bar in your internal thinking the child will rise to the occasion. We didn't have a nervous stressed out approach to reading. He never sensed any fear of failure and this helps a lot. It was always fun. We made reading part of our natural daily rhythm. He was read books at all levels and allowed access to books everywhere.

When he was little we bought him some books for children that have both the ASL gloss and English word. His favorite was the ABC book by Linda Bove. We never bought anything that had SEE. We would read books over and over and sometimes change the story.

When he was about 5 we introduced chapter books. The challenge I had was keeping the book open while I signed. My husband found a weight at a book store that hold the pages open and that was solved. I think reading long stories over several nights motivated him to want to do it himself. If we had just stayed at his reading level he may have been bored and not realized what could do in the future if he learned to read.

We are a family of storytellers. I realized today each member of the family loves to tell stories. When my son was little my husband would dress up with a beard and funny coat and hat and visit us as story man. He really believed this old man had come to tell stories. When he was older he would dress up and join my husband to tell his sister stories. I think this also helped. Many parents are too self conscience to try and make up a story but really anyone can do it. Right now look around your computer and pick up an object. Tell a story about it. Just think of a crazy reason why that object could cause conflict. Maybe your child is not sharing. The story could be about a selfish prince who hoards paper clips leaving the village awash in unorganized paper. A good book to get started is "Storytelling With Children" by Nancy Mellon. Don't worry even if you are the most serious person nobody outside your house will see you so give it a try.

We live in a reading home. What I mean by this is we all love to read. I walked through the house to see how this looks and there was only 1 room (bathroom) that didn't have books. Both children have bookshelves full of books, the kitchen has cookbooks. The living room have a box of library books and 6 shelves packed. The basement has paperback, reference books for my husband and art books near where I paint. In my studio space upstairs again reference books, In our bedroom more books . My son sees us read for pleasure. I also read books with him if he tells me it might be of interest to me.

We encouraged him to read about what he was interested in. If he wants to learn something we go to the library. We don't teach him to depend on others to learn and don't jump on the computer first. If you want to learn to cook, get a cookbook. Need to fix your car? Well their are books for that. He loves comic books. So he has a ton of books on how to write and draw them. Once he came home and with his pants low showing his boxers. I was startled he wanted to follow the crowd on this one. I told him that the origin of that fashion was gang related. When a gang member goes to prison they take the belt so the pants fall down. The outside gang members do it out of solidarity. Or at least that is what I had been told. We talked about what is a gang. I explained there have always been gangs from pirates, terrorists and organized crime. We went and got books, we studied what a gang is. I told him he could wear his pants low if he did his research and still wanted to have people see him that way. Books give him power to be in control of his choices. He doesn't have to follow his peers if he has more information and he can always win the debate.

Reading is not homework, it is not a task. It is something we all do to expand and entertain ourselves. It is important that the child is following his interests. If he wants to read comic books and you want him to read classic literature it can cause conflict and steer him away from the joy of reading.

I think of other homes I have visited and it often strikes me that there are often no books. We show them the importance of their learning to read yet the home sends them another message. Even if a child attends a school where ASL is the language of direct instruction they still come home. a parent is a child's first teacher. Have you noticed how if a dad is really into sports the child often follows? If a home is full of music the child usually absorbs the same interest? If you don't read the message is not natural that they should.

My son reads so much that at times in the past I have had to restrict it. He reads while eating, often while walking and I suspect sometimes while sleeping. He is so busy at school now there is much more balance. He still reads a lot but has more activities with his peers to keep him busy. I still think it is funny that I am one of the few moms of a deaf kid who has to deal with all of the books.

So my advice would be if you want your child to read, read yourself. Don't focus on the outcome of your child's literacy, enjoy the process. Expect him to read, deaf does not equal illiterate. Most important find ways to tell him you love him everyday.


  1. Yeah, what's awesome about you is that you actually learned sign language and can communicate with your son. That's why he is interested about the world and likes to read. You can guide him in that. It's SHOCKING how many parents don't bother communicating with their children beyond a few basic nouns and simple commands. It breaks my heart. In all fairness, it probably breaks their hearts too. I just became an interpreter in a mainstream setting, and you are absolutely right. Your parents are your first teachers, but when your parents CAN'T COMMUNICATE WITH YOU then you have some major obstacles to overcome.

    Imagine, when you read, and you have a question about it, nobody can answer it for you. You can't even ask it. The only time you see reading modeled is at school, in the midst of the teacher yelling at people to be quiet, possibly the teacher can't sign very well because there are no requirements for Deaf Ed teachers to know sign language.

    The whole thing is insane, and seems insurmountable. You have done a beautiful thing with your son. You should be so proud.

  2. hee hee, thank you! I forgot to mention this only helped us because we share a common language. Also thank you for the kind words.

  3. We are a reading house too, in fact, my husband has asked me to stop buying books because we have too many. So now the library is our second home. My daughter is buried in books every day, but my boys are another story-- I have to drag 'em away from their games to get them to read.

  4. Karen that is so funny. My mother in law gave my seven year old daughter a DS last night. My sweet little girl has been abducted by a chattering piece of plastic! About an hour ago she finally uttered from her techno haze, " Daddy I need help feeding my baby". I have no idea what that means but at least she still knows where she is at.

  5. Not only I am profoundly deaf and a voracious reader, I also teach reading to hearing children in an urban public school district. I have three college degrees in education and wrote several papers on early literacy development. This is a perfect example of family literacy. Of course, deaf children, even those who use sign language, can be expected to learn to read with success!

  6. Awesome!!! I'm such a big big fan of reading in the home.... My mother read to me all the time and I had new books coming in the mail regularly even though we didn't have a lot of other new stuff... I now read about 5 short books at nap times and before bed time to my son (hearing) every single day... He'd pitch a fit if I tried to read less or not at all! I hope when he's as old as your son he is just as interested in reading as yours is! :) As a former deaf ed teacher, I can tell you that my most successful students had the most involved parents... not a coincidence!

  7. So very well said! not only did I grow up in a house full of books (my mom is a libraian) but also a house full of music and educators (both parents have 2 degrees, first in music ed and masters in ed). Because of this I love to read, love music and love education. Along the way I fell in love with ASL and am still trying to find a way to combine off of these interests. I love reading these blogs and think your son will cherish these when he is older!