The Impact of Visual-Spatial Information on the Development of Reading Proficiency in Deaf Children
Cheryl Gibson Sidney J. Segalowitz
Despite normal nonverbal intelligence, deaf children generally do not achieve a reading profiency beyond a fourth grade level. Attempts to account for this deficit point to reduced vocabulary and delayed language acquisition. We explore the possibility that it is the biological constraints of a nonauditory language environment which could create a counterproductive bias which, in turn, interferes with their ability to read. When deaf children attempt to learn a language system, the visual modality carries the most consistent and compelling information. This is true for speech reading, sign language, pantomime, and gesture but we will restrict our discussion primarily to sign language because sign language is a highly efficient system for transmitting a visual language and as such probably represents an optimal model for a discussion of visual information processing. Two readily identifiable components of sign language that may have an important influence on the development of competence in the verbal language system are the symbolic dimension, which provides language information, and the spatial component, which carries this information in a modality specific manner. The spatial component may promote a dependence on or initial strategy for a mode of processing that conflicts with the procedures required for efficient reading of written text. We see these conflicts directly represented in the modes preferred by each cerebral hemisphere. Deaf, as opposed to hearing children may use right hemisphere processes in reading, producing a restriction on the development of reading skills.
Children gradually acquire a complex rule-governed system to communicate their thoughts feelings, moods, and images to others. Language appears to be an