November 20, 2010

How to Teach a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Child to Read

 I see so many websites, articles, and books claiming that they have the best ways to teach a deaf/hard of hearing child to read. Some would even go so far to say it should be the only way claiming it is the best way.

So, how do we teach a deaf or hard of hearing child to read?

Who knows. There is no one answer. The truth is, no one really knows. Some people have strong ideas about how a deaf or hard of hearing child should learn to read. We can argue with each other about which are the best practices until pigs fly.

It really depends on the child (background, family, language development, etc.).

What if the child lives in a home where there are no books and his or her caregivers are illiterate? What if the child has a learning disability? What if the child knows how to read fluently but can't comprehend what he or she reads? What if the child is profoundly deaf and his family don't sign and are unsuccessful in teaching him or her language through oral/aural methods? What if the child's family signs with the child, but not in a natural way as fluent ASL signers would sign, and the child is mainstreamed with an incompetent interpreter resulting in the child unable to fully grasp the concept of language? What if the child goes home every night to an unemployed alcoholic single father who is unable to attend to his or her needs that would help develop reading skills? What if the child's family only speaks Spanish and are afraid to approach English speaking professionals about how they can help their child? What if the child's teacher or caregiver keeps using the same method for teaching reading for years still not seeing any results? (By the way doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity).

There are so many things that can get in the way of fostering a child's reading skills, whether they are deaf/hard of hearing or not.

I remember how when I went to graduate school, I stupidly thought that I would learn a few ways that would be the best ways to teach a deaf/hard of hearing child to read that I can use with all of my future students.

Before you get up on your platform and boast to others about the best way to teach a child how to read, remember that not all children are made the same. One method does not work for all. We have to try a variety of ways until we see some success with the child and go from there. In some cases, we really have to work with the child's family and encourage them to help out.

The only sure thing I know that would definitely help a deaf/hard of hearing child to read would be for them to have a strong language base. You need language, otherwise you have next to nothing.



  1. If you’ve ever observed a Deaf aide or teacher read a story/picture book to young children in a bilingual setting, you’ll often see the story read/told three times. For children, there are competing priorities – seeing (or listening to) the story and following the pictures. The three-telling separates these:

    1 – With the book facing the teacher, or in the lap, tell the story in ASL. If you have to prepare beforehand to do this, fine.

    2 – Show the pictures in sequence and let the children satisfy their curiosity about the pictures. If needed, help them understand how the pictures go along with the story.

    3 – Then, when the children are familiar with the story and the pictures, go through the written English story. If the children are too young to read, switch to signed English. The point is to explain how the story works in English, explain the English construction and any English idioms that are used, and use the time to build English skills via ASL.

    Now as for limited family resources, you are right. Not many children have families with the resources and commitment you see evidenced in the blog world. Deaf mentors for family and child can be a big help (see the blog “We Never Landed in Holland” for an example of how this can work).

    One of my favorite quotes is “Success is what succeeds”. You have to keep trying until you find ways that work for a particular child. You seem to understand this already. 


  2. "One of my favorite quotes is “Success is what succeeds”. You have to keep trying until you find ways that work for a particular child. You seem to understand this already."


    Thanks for sharing how a teacher for the deaf would read a story to children in a bilingual setting. Interesting. I would love to observe this sometime.


  3. What worked for me as a child was Mom labeling items in the home. Large lettered cards with a picture saying LAMP, TABLE, DOLL, etc. placed on the item itself. Later, matching games with duplicate cards given to the child and matched to the word on the item. In time, add sentences, subtract pictures, and vary the game with funny twists like I AM A LITTLE DOLL placed on the largest doll and the reverse on the smallest with a big OOPS card used before correcting them.

    This teaches that words can represent the object and begins reading readiness.

  4. Dianrez,

    Sounds like you had a great mother. So you started learning through sight word recognition and labeling.


  5. BTW, in some other postings, I have mentioned my observations of several score deaf children with CI's, unselected, in mainstreamed public school settings. How there is a highly variable time before the children can understand speech via CI alone, ranging from months to years to (sometimes) never. I have been told my observations are not correct or not what the responder has experienced with his/her own child.

    You have listed several issues that may limit family resources and commitment and delay literacy. Similar issues can delay a child's adaptation to a CI, and this is what deaf children with CI's face in far too many cases. Unfortunately, most children, across the board, do not have parents as resourceful and committed as many of the parents who blog about their child's CI progress.

    Although my child's education is *my* responsibility first of all, when I reach my limits, it is good to have the help and support of teachers such as you seem to be.

    Thank you,

    1. What bugs me, reading research on CIs, is how many people seem to accept that a CI user will have the verbal skills of their 'auditory age'. So a kid who got a CI at 3 years is expected to be 3 years behind in language. And yet Deaf of Deaf are on par with hearing kids in language (though using ASL instead of speech), so we know that under ideal conditions deaf kids don't have to be behind at all. We might never be able to get deaf kids with hearing parents on par with Deaf of Deaf, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try for that.

  6. I think this must be very difficult. I really admire some people who can do this.


Keep it civil.