Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Reading and Deaf Individuals: Perspectives on the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Reading and Deaf Individuals: Perspectives on the Qualitative Similarity Hypothesis

Article excerpt

On the opening page of his novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy writes, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" (Tolstoy, 1875-1877/2001, p. 1). This sentence is widely interpreted as meaning that a marriage has to be successful in several key aspects to be happy, whereas failure in even one of these aspects dooms the marriage. The Anna Karenina principle describes an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a variety of factors dooms it to failure, whereas a successful endeavor avoids every possible deficiency. For example, the Anna Karenina principle can be used to illustrate reading: All successful readers are not so because of a particular positive trait, but because of a lack of any number of possible negative traits, and a negative trait in any one of various factors can render a reading failure. Basically, reading is not an easy task.

While the field of reading has yet to come upon a universal science of reading (i.e., to ascertain the specific positive traits), much progress has been made toward understanding how children learn to read alphabetic and nonalphabetic scripts, both from behavioral and neuroscientific studies (Perfetti, 2011; Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky, & Seidenberg, 2001). Similarly, in the field of the education of d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Dhh)1 students, the understanding of the English language and the reading process has been well documented by researchers (e.g., King & Quigley, 1981; Paul, Wang, & Williams, 2013; Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2010). Not surprisingly, educators in reading research and d/Dhh education have pondered similar questions. Specifically, educators have asked the century-old question about the seemingly low reading achievement of many students who are d/Dhh (see review in Trezek et al., 2010). Of course, performance on a standardized test is only one index of the reading difficulties a child who is d/Dhh may experience. Applying the Anna Karenina principle, though, we cannot help but wonder: While there are many successful d/Dhh readers, how do they do it? Also, we may ask: Why, compared with their typically developing hearing peers, do many students who are d/Dhh appear to struggle more in reading?

One major reason is because many children who are d/Dhh do not receive early, and full access to a language, whether it is a spoken language, its manual codes, or American Sign Language (ASL). Consequently, children who are d/Dhh often enter school without the cognitive and language competencies typical hearing children possess when entering school. After all, it is the child's competence in language, and even more so in the language of print, that provides the foundation for reading (Perfetti, 2011). Many hearing children already have in place the basics of the vocabulary, grammar, and discourse properties of the English language. This is not so with many d/Dhh children, who enter school with different psycholinguistic abilities in either ASL or English (spoken, signed, or cued, as in Cued Speech/Language). For example, Deaf children of Deaf parents may have ASL skills and d/Dhh children of hearing parents may have different levels of ASL and/or manual or cued codes of English. Both may have a range of spoken-English skills as well (Andrews, Logan, & Phelan, 2008). In contrast with the experience of numerous d/Dhh children, what many hearing children have in place is sufficient to support their learning of reading (Perfetti, 2011).

Other risk factors may come into play for children who are d/Dhh. What are the risk factors leading to English reading difficulties of these students? Are the risk factors qualitatively similar for everyone who is learning to read regardless of hearing status? If so, maybe the chances for students who are d/Dhh to develop these risk factors are simply greater than those of their typically developing hearing peers. With appropriate and effective reading interventions that are qualitatively similar to the ones used with hearing students, the risk factors could very well be reduced to the minimum. …

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