Talit Khan considers how we should identify dyslexia in pupils for whom established screening techniques might not be suitable…
How often do we come across deaf children who struggle to read and spell in our classrooms? How many of us then take the time to find out if they have a literacy difficulty such as dyslexia, or do we tend to dismiss any reading and comprehension difficulties they might have as due to their hearing impairment?
Is it possible to use similar screening techniques to identify if a deaf child has dyslexia, as a child that is able to hear clearly? Well, it appears so…
A cause for concern A recently concluded two-part study conducted by the Nuffield Foundation (see tinyurl.com/nuffield-dyslexia) found that, “Half of the 79 oral deaf children in the study (aged 10-11) were identified as having reading difficulties. In addition, a substantial group of oral deaf children with average reading skills are at risk of developing reading problems because of poor language.”
Children exhibiting a deficit in language skills and phonological awareness will typically have had a lack of exposure to a rich vocabulary environment, which can have an impact on their decoding and subsequent word reading skills. As SENCos and teachers, it essential for us to explore whether a deaf child with phonological concerns might fit a dyslexic profile. Why? Because we have to ensure that all pupils, regardless of whatever disabilities or difficulties they might have, are given the same opportunities for intervention support.
It may be difficult to match the typical age-related reading profile for a deaf child, but there’s no reason why we can’t use a typical dyslexic reading profile to identify whether there is cause for concern in relation to an oral deaf learner. Acknowledging that a child who is deaf and has good oral spoken language skills may have a tendency to make phonetic spelling errors, or present issues with alliteration tasks, should help to inform us about the specific support that he or she may require.
The strong likelihood of deaf children with weak reading skills developing further problems due to their language difficulties ought to be a real cause for concern. The earlier that intervention support for such individuals can be introduced, the more effective the monitoring of their progress will be.
We need to ensure that all poor readers, regardless of their ability to hear or not, get to receive the same opportunities for support, so that any ‘reading gap,’ that might exist doesn’t widen and prevent a deaf child from catching up with his or her peers.
A 2009 report by Sir Jim Rose to the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (tinyurl.com/rose-report-09) stated that every child should have the opportunity to become successful at reading. This shouldn’t just apply to hearing children who have been identified with dyslexia, but those who are poor deaf readers too.
As educational practitioners, it’s up to us to ensure that an inclusive education is offered to all of our pupils – not just hearing pupils identified as having literacy difficulties via standardised assessments. We have the option of administering assessments such as the phonological assessment battery (PhAB), which can help to distinguish whether an oral deaf child has the same difficulties as a dyslexic learner. By offering intensive interventions to hearing and hearing-impaired pupils in broadly the same way (albeit with some administrative modifications), both groups could access to a broader understanding of the curriculum, which would ultimately facilitate their entry to a richer and more fulfilling life.