Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from J.B., Ontario

My son is 5 1/2, hard of hearing, moderately-severe to profound, bilateral aids since he was 4 months old. He is currently in a mainstream school, and also knows ASL, although he doesn’t like to use it. His reading skills are incredible – he has read dozens of “chapter books” since he learned to read last winter/spring. He has really good fine-motor control. But his pencil skills however are truly awful, well behind everyone else in his class, and he is even very unwilling to even try printing/tracing letters. He is on the waiting list to see the school board OT about a possible dysgraphia diagnosis. Is there any connection between his written language problems and his hearing problems? Or between his written language problems, and his unwillingness to use ASL?

Question from J.B., Ontario. Posted October 18, 2012.
Response from Cheri Williams - University of Cincinnati

It appears that your son’s problem is not a written language problem. Instead, as you have described it here, the problem is with his handwriting. If his reading skills are strong, then his written language skills may also be strong. However, you and his teachers will need to bypass handwriting in order to accurately assess his written language knowledge and skills. That can be done easily with the use of magnetic letters and/or the computer. He can construct his stories using magnetic letters or he can type his stories, instead of trying to print them.  I used this approach with a kindergarten student who was hard of hearing and also had cerebral palsy and could not write with a pencil. She was allowed to compose her stories using magnetic letters until she had learned the alphabet and then on the computer. The approach was highly successful.

I cannot say whether your son’s handwriting problem is related to his hearing loss. A consult with the school’s occupational therapist is definitely in order.

With regard to his unwillingness to use ASL, that is most likely an identity issue. Most children, regardless of age, do not want to be different from their peers. Because your son is mainstreamed with children who are hearing and use spoken language to communicate, I am not at all surprised that he doesn’t want to use ASL.  My best guess is that he wants to be like his peers and use spoken language to communicate.  Using ASL sets him apart from his peer—makes him different—the very thing children try to avoid.