How can we improve the English reading and writing comprehension of deaf people?

I subscribed at Quora.com and am so fond of reading answers from question asked by readers. I am amazed at how people respond to questions in a more comprehensive, unbiased and sometimes personal way. And since I am into deaf and deaf education, I tried asking my title question. What I got was a very good response from Dr. Don Grushkin, a Deaf Professor! Talk about credibility!

One of the problems I experienced using Quora is that I cannot keep track of my questions. There is nowhere in my Quora dashboard where I can access my previous questions. It’s a good thing I shared it in my Facebook wall so I can remember the link. I also want to put it in my blog so that I can easily access it every time I need it. So here it is! Thank you very much Dr. Grushkin, my newfound idol! 😉

You want to know how we can improve the English reading and writing comprehension of Deaf people? I’ll tell you. It’s very simple.

From the minute you find out a child’s Deaf (and you can find out right in the hospital after they’re born), start speaking ASL (not signed Englishcued speech, or any other pseudoscientific “methodology” — ASL: AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE with them. And no futzing around with oralism or cochlear implants or whatever to see if it “works” first, and no wailing and gnashing your teeth and rending your clothes at the fact the child is Deaf. Being Deaf is not the same as dead. We’re fine as we are, and we have perfectly good lives as Deaf people and can survive to a ripe old age as Deaf people. But the point here is that you tend to focus on “methodologies”, when you should be focusing on LANGUAGE. LANGUAGE is never an “option” for any child, and ASL is a language where signed English, cued speech, cochlear implants, oralism are emphatically not languages.

Great! You get it! You’ve started taking ASL courses, so you can communicate with your child in a true language. Now start talking to your child — in ASL. Talk about everything, just as you would with a Hearing child — the birds, the sky, what you see, what you are doing, what you want to do, what you don’t want your child doing — EVERYTHING.

Now that you’ve gotten started on the right track in giving your child a complete linguistic and cognitive foundation with a complete, accessible language (ASL), start reading to your child. Every day. In ASL. Use the reading strategies that Deaf adults have long used with their Deaf (and hearing) children that have consistently promoted literacy development in their children.

Also, don’t be afraid to fingerspell naturally — I’m not saying go all Rochester Method, but fingerspell titles (books, movies, names) and words that there may not be a sign for. Use lexicalized fingerspelling for common words like rice and bus. Fingerspelling is part of ASL’s bridging between English and ASL.

When your kid’s old enough, send your child to a school program that utilizes a true ASL-English bilingual philosophy. You have to be a bit careful here. There are plenty of programs that claim to be bilingual, but really are not. If the program uses signed English or cued speech, that’s a sign it’s not truly bilingual. If the program involves teachers simcomming, that’s a sign it’s not truly bilingual. If there are only a few (or none) Deaf teachers (and they should be TEACHERS, not aides), that’s a sign it’s not truly bilingual. A good bilingual program should have at least a 50/50 Deaf-Hearing ratio of faculty and staff. If the school uses auditory-based methodologies and systems like “visual phonics”, that’s a sign it’s not truly bilingual.

Now that your kid is school-age, encourage your child to read. Really, you should have been encouraging this long ago by providing books at the kid’s reading and interest level. Talk about what they and you are reading. Not only should you encourage your kid to read, be involved with your kid’s education. Help with homework. Ask and talk about their day.

In other words:

Yes, ASL IS the answer!

I couldn’t agree more!

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