Educational needs of deaf children
Research conducted at the School of Health Sciences has shown that deaf children with reading difficulties are being neglected, as current tests focus exclusively on hearing children and adults. The findings indicate that reading and dyslexia-sensitive tests can be used for some deaf children: these tests could allow educators to understand better the reading deficits of deaf children and to support them through specialist reading interventions.
While there have been extensive studies of dyslexia in recent years, the relationship between deafness and reading difficulties has been virtually unexplored. There are 44,000 deaf schoolchildren in the UK and many face difficulties when learning to read. Dr Ros Herman, a member of the research team, explains more: "As reading is based on spoken language - which many deaf children struggle to acquire - reading problems in this group are generally attributed solely to deafness, yet given the genetic basis of dyslexia, it is likely that some deaf children will also be dyslexic."
Other challenges in research and practice include a lack of suitable reading tests for the diagnosis of dyslexia in deaf children, as there is little information about reading profiles for this group. Without an understanding of the typical reading level for a deaf child in a given age group, it is difficult to determine whether a deaf child has dyslexia.
As part of the first phase of their research, the team, comprising Dr Herman, Professor Penny Roy and Dr Fiona Kyle, targeted deaf children who communicate orally, rather than through sign language, in their final year of primary school. The study compared 79 children with severe to profound levels of deafness - a significant proportion of oral deaf children of this age in the UK - with 20 hearing children with dyslexia.
Half of the oral deaf children had reading delays that were at least as severe as the problems faced by hearing children with dyslexia and in some cases they were more severe.
In the next stage of the project, the team will turn their attention to deaf children who sign, to ascertain whether that group could also benefit from specialist reading interventions.