By Jesse Lewis, Project Director
If you have a child who is deaf, one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the gift of a love for reading. You definitely have to power to inspire this love, even if you don’t think you do.
A child who loves to read is going to read without you having to require it. A child who loves to read is going to learn so much more about life than a child who only reads when told to read. A child who loves to read will find that barriers to communication are lessened (not eliminated) and that opportunities increase.
Too often we see lowered expectations from adults for deaf children’s potential for strong literacy. Too often we see deaf high school graduates barely able to read, which seriously hurts their chances for jobs. Even entry level jobs become difficult to obtain if a person is illiterate. A hearing individual may be illiterate, but have strong verbal communication that makes a difference to an employer. For the deaf job-seeker, literacy becomes that much more important.
We could say that one doesn’t need to love reading in order to become literate. This is definitely true, but the experience lacks joyous inspiration.
When you love to read, you open up a channel of information that is readily available to you. Learning can occur with every magazine and every book. A gripping tale may lead to inspiration. Inspiration may lead to action. Adventures. Memories made.
When we have children, we want them to have fantastic lives. We want them to have dreams. Reading is a fantastic tool for progressing toward those dreams, because the stories they read help them visualize how they will reach their dreams. When you watch TV and movies, someone else is the hero. You see the actors enacting the story. When you read, you can be the hero. You can imagine people you know as the characters. This makes it all the more real and worthwhile.
No one is claiming that sparking this love of reading is easy. It’s usually not. It takes time and perseverance. You can seek support from organizations like Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, which may at times even have a literacy program. Keep in mind, however, that you as the parent are the best sources of inspiration.
Here are a few tips:
1) Let your child see you reading regularly. This can be the newspaper, a magazine, a book. Tell them about what you’re reading and let them see how you enjoy it. If you feel that you don’t enjoy it, keep in mind that anything can be learned.
2) Take your child to the library once a week and let them pick out age-appropriate books to borrow. Consider letting your child have a card.
3) Don’t lower expectations. If your child is already behind, you need a plan for getting your child caught up to grade level. Deafness alone is NOT a reason to think that catching up is not possible. If your child has a developmental disability that makes reading a challenge, consult with the experts. KNOW that you have power in the IEP meetings for your child to push for what you feel is best for your child’s education. Don’t accept half-measures. Ask for help with a plan and be part of the solution.
4) Don’t put this responsibility into the hands of others. You are the most powerful individuals in the life of your deaf child. You have the ability to influence the future. Yes, your child’s teachers need to be a part of this effort, but teachers have so many students these days that they need your participation.
5) Read to your child every night. Read together. Take turns. Talk about what you read. Work with your child until everything clicks.
6) Write little notes to your child to include in their lunch boxes, wishes of a good day or expressions of love. Ask your child later if the notes were read. Make sure they are. Every little bit makes a difference.
7) Tell yourself often that Deafness is never a reason to put these limits on what your child is able to do. Literacy does not need to be tied to the ability to hear. Deaf people throughout history, when supported by the encouragement of adults around them, have been able to succeed in so many fantastic ways. One doesn’t need to look any further than Helen Keller as an example. Deaf and Blind, she went on to read through the use of Braille and wrote several books of her own. You don’t want low expectations and false limitations to lead to real limitations that never needed to exist.
8) Keep it fun. Buy comic books, too. Have the captions on and encourage your child to read while watching cartoons. Go to captioned movies and do the same. Play Scattergories, Boggle, Scrabble, and other games that involve reading. Have a blast.
The more you do, the greater chance there is that you’ll spark that love of reading, and at a certain point your child’s desire to learn will just take over from there. You will have given a gift that rewards your child throughout their life. Your child will have no problem filling out a job application, e-mailing employers, discussing their future children’s education with their teachers, doing homework in college, and more. So much of what we do in life is tied to our ability to read. A deaf person who loves to read will be so much more empowered than a deaf person who finishes high school reading far below grade level.
On behalf of your children, we ask that you find the time today to begin working on sparking this love of reading. Your child will thank you for this one day, perhaps in a well-written e-mail.
Need more support? Contact your local Deaf Center. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, Inc. serves Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Merced, Madera, Mariposa, Monterey, and San Benito Counties of California. If you are outside our area, a search online should yield results for local support.
Jesse Lewis is a profoundly deaf individual and author that credits his parents, teachers, and comic books for sparking his own love of reading.