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The Contribution of American Sign Language Comprehension on Measures of Early Literacy in Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children: A Longitudinal Study of Four-, Five-, and Six-Year-Olds through Early Elementary School Open Access

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The influence of sign language comprehension on reading has been well-documented in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary-aged deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HOH) children and adults. There is limited research into the predictive nature of sign language comprehension on literacy outcomes in D/HOH children in preschool and early elementary school, however. This research addressed this gap by investigating group differences between D/HOH children who primarily communicated through sign language alone and D/HOH children who primarily communicated through sign supported spoken language on measures of American Sign Language (ASL) comprehension, sign supported English (SSE) comprehension, letter/word recognition, and reading comprehension. The relationship between ASL comprehension and SSE comprehension on word identification and reading comprehension was also examined. A longitudinal design was utilized and data analyzed with linear mixed models. Participants were D/HOH children 4-6-years-old at the beginning of the study and followed for two years. Children who communicated primarily through sign language alone had significantly higher comprehension of ASL than children who communicated primarily through sign supported spoken language. There were no significant group differences in growth of ASL comprehension, however. There were no significant group differences in comprehension of SSE, letter/word recognition, passage comprehension or growth pattern in these skills. Both ASL comprehension and SSE comprehension predicted letter/word identification and passage comprehension final status whereas only SSE comprehension predicted growth pattern. When word identification was examined in addition to the language predictors, the random effects of the model could not be estimated so statistical inferences for the predictive utility of ASL comprehension on reading comprehension above SSE comprehension and word identification could not be drawn. Implications for service delivery in early intervention, progress monitoring of language skills, instruction, and personnel preparation are discussed. Because of the significant variation in language development initial status, further research is recommended into sources of individual variation in language outcomes. Future longitudinal research is needed to examine the age range from early childhood through elementary school, include multiple measures of linguistic competence, and identify the influence of new hearing technology and language experience. Furthermore, intervention studies aimed at improving language development are warranted given its relationship with literacy.

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