Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Phonological Awareness of Young Children with Visual Impairments

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Phonological Awareness of Young Children with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

Abstract: The findings from a sample of 22 young children with visual impairments and no additional disabilities suggest that potential readers of braille or dual media had better syllable-segmentation, sound-isolation, and sound-segmentation skills than potential readers of print. Potential readers of print seemed to have slightly better letter-identification and letter-sound identification skills than potential readers of braille or dual media.

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In the past decade, early reading and reading interventions to improve academic outcomes have been of considerable interest to educators. From a developmental perspective, emergent literacy, or the early "developmental precursors to conventional forms of reading and writing" (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998, p. 849), is of particular value in understanding how parents and early childhood professionals can provide the foundation for future success in reading. Although researchers have offered slightly different models of the conceptual and theoretical components of emergent literacy, most have acknowledged that phonological awareness is a key predictor of the acquisition and growth of reading (Lonigan et al., 2009; National Early Literacy Panel, NELP, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Senechal, LeFevre, SmithChant, & Colton, 2001). Phonological deficits are now recognized as a leading cause of reading difficulties (Lonigan et al., 2009; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008).

Phonological awareness is the ability to detect, manipulate, and analyze the sounds in oral language, including the ability to distinguish, segment, and blend syllables, rhymes, and phonemes (NELP, 2008). These skills are typically assessed using tasks that involve the matching, deletion, and blending of sounds within words or nonwords. Eventually, children associate the sounds of oral language with the letters that represent the sounds in print, which probably explains why children with good phonological awareness skills learn to read earlier than do children with less advanced skills, even when intelligence, vocabulary, memory, and socioeconomic factors are considered (Lonigan et al., 2009; NELP, 2008). Researchers have documented that systematic training in phonological awareness promotes reading in kindergarteners (Adams, 1990; Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury, 1994) and preschoolers (Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1993; 1995).

Phonological awareness and knowledge of the names of letters appear to be highly correlated, both concurrently and longitudinally (Lonigan et al., 2009), presenting a bit of a chicken-or-egg dilemma that may be of particular relevance to children with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision), who often lack incidental access to print or text. Many children who are visually impaired may not be exposed to print or braille until they reach preschool or kindergarten--a huge disadvantage. By the time that most sighted children begin school, they can recognize approximately 15 print letters (Treiman & Rodriguez, 1999), whereas most preschool children who are visually impaired know none (Barlow-Brown & Connelly, 2002). The ability to recognize letters is critical because of its association with phonological awareness.

Research on sighted children has suggested that "phonological awareness develops along a continuum from awareness of large and concrete sound units (i.e., words, syllables) to awareness of small and abstract sound units (i.e., phonemes)" (Lonigan et al., 2009, p. 347). Research has also indicated that the development of phonological awareness in children who are blind or have low vision is similar to that of children who are sighted (BarlowBrown & Connelly, 2002; Gillon & Young, 2002). Specifically, for both groups of children, the ability to name letters appears to be a prerequisite to phonological awareness. Similarly, in a study of 7- to 12-year-olds with visual impairments, Dodd and Conn (2000) found that students who used uncontracted braille had phonological or phonemic awareness skills that were similar to those of their sighted peers. …

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