February 25, 2009

The First Key to Success: Reading

Everything we read about raising a child with a hearing loss always included the same obstacle: these kids need extra help learning to read. As an avid reader, someone who ready early and frequently as a child, I wanted to do everything possible to not only encourage a love for reading, but to provide Hadley every chance to develop a strong foundation for reading readiness.

The following is from an article I wrote that was published in 2004 in Volta Voices, a publication by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It appeared alongside an article written by Hadley's cert AVT, Lea Watson. The two articles, Ten Books a Day Keep the Doctor Away and Thirteen Tips for Reading, appear in their entirety on the AVCC website.

How We Encourage Reading
1. Model reading. Hadley knows that we have shelves of books in the house that are ours, not hers. Even though her dad isn’t as book crazy as her mom, she sees him read the newspaper and magazines. We point out readers to Hadley, at home, in the library, and when we’re out around town.
2. Buy books! My own philosophy is that you can’t have too many books, so we made a decision early on that while we wouldn’t spend a fortune on a ton of toys, we would invest in a wide variety of books for our children.
3. Create a physical space for books at home. Hadley has one main play area at home with shelves for books, but we also have small baskets of her books throughout the house, next to a rocking chair, in bedrooms, and in the car.
4. Go to the library. We go to the library at least once a week, where we look at the paintings in the art gallery, look for a few books for me, then settle into the children’s library to where Hadley is encouraged to pick out books on her own. We keep her library books in a special place at home, which makes it easier to explain that some books stay at home and others need to be returned.
5. Pick up on favorites. When Hadley asks to read a book over and over again, we immediately check out other books by the same author or illustrator.
6. Be creative. We make “books” out of songs Hadley enjoys, either by drawing (we are not artists!), finding pictures that go along with the lyrics, or downloading clipart from the computer. Hadley likes to read through her own photo albums with captions and her Experience Book, sharing them with family and friends.
7. Make it fun! We act out books as much as possible (with toys, puppets, felt, whatever we have at hand), make up songs to go along with the story, and have a good time with reading. Sometimes we read the book to a stuffed animal or puppet.
8. Make it her activity. Hadley chooses which book to read and where to read it. If she decides halfway through that something else is more exciting, we just come back to the book later. Sometimes she just wants to read a favorite section of the book, which is fine too.
9. Read throughout the day. Reading is definitely an important part of Hadley’s bedtime ritual. But it’s also part of getting dressed, eating lunch, and waking up from a nap.
10. Vary the narrators. It’s boring to have the same person always read to you. When we have visitors, we ask Hadley to share a book with them. It’s especially fun for Hadley to have older kids read to her.
11. Pack a Bag. Hadley is used to selecting which items she wants to bring along when we go visiting. Books are always included, another great way to ensure that others are reading to her.
12. Sing it! Many books are based on well-known songs or can be set to their own tune. There are many beautifully illustrated songbooks of nursery rhymes and old favorites. Several of Hadley’s first phrases were based on lines from songs in books.
13. Be poetic. The cadence and rhythm of poetry is interesting to most people and is a nice break from the routine of reading a traditional book.

I don't recall exactly when Hadley began to read. At her IEP 3 year review in the Fall 2007 (age 6), Hadley's reading scores were at the Grade 5 level for reading comprehension and Grade 7 level for reading instruction. In a separate test conducted in August 2008, she had the vocabulary score of a 12 year old. I think it's important for other parents to know that, with the appropriate amplification and intervention, children with significant hearing losses can read, read well, and read often.

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