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Deaf Education:  Teenage Deaf Literacy
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<<Hi Dr. Vicars,

I have enjoyed your website and your newsletters. About a year ago I became the stepmom to the son of my boyfriend when he received custody. Troy is 15 and profoundly deaf. I have been attending ASL classes for about 6 months now and am slowly learning ASL (I'm not a visual learner, so this has been a challenging endeavor!). Troy helps me practice and he is a very strict taskmaster.

My problem is that Troy's reading is at approximately a grade 2-3 level. At first I thought that he may have a learning disability in this area. But, I have since discovered that reading was not a priority in the former school he attended (grade 1-9). If the student became frustrated they would just leave them be. He has been treated as though he is slow and believe me that couldn't be further from the truth.

Troy now wants to learn to read. His main motivation is so that he can get his learner's license. His father and I want his to learn to read to help him deal with a hearing world. I am wondering about the best way to do it. I have been using some of the lessons on your website, but in reverse. Meaning that I sign to him and he writes to me and I write to him and he signs to me. I am finding that this is a very slow way to teach him. We also have the close captioning turned on the T.V., but Troy complains that it is too fast. I have also used primary readers, but Troy feels they are for babies and resents having to use them. When I request, his teacher will send home worksheets on occasion, but again they are for 7 year olds. Is there another method that is more interesting that you could suggest?

Thank you,

Each child is different and no one system will work for every child...but since you asked me for my advice in your situation here is what I'd do:

Inform him that there will be no TV for the next week.
Then that night or the next day take him to a mega-bookstore. (The kind with a huge magazine section.) Tell him you will be there for a couple hours and that he should look around and find something interesting to read--then shoo him off to look on his own.
After a while find him and let him know that you are willing to purchase a few magazines for him and you want him to pick two or three different magazines that he thinks is cool.
After he picks out a few magazines...walk him over to the comic book section and repeat the process. Have him pick out a few comics. (I recommend Marvel or DC.) Check to make sure the comics do not say "Suggested for Mature Readers" or anything like that.
Then take him home and keep that TV off. [The other day I turned off the TV at our house. After the initial gnashing of teeth the kids went to the long unused game closet and got out a game and played together for 3 hours!] Make sure he has a good reading light near his bed and a place to keep or store his magazines.
You might consider making him work earlier that day (sweep the sidewalk--whatever). Then AFTER he does the work let him know that because he did a good job you want to reward him with a trip to the bookstore. Do not tell him about it before he does the work. He is to do the work because you say so not because of some expected reward. The bookstore trip is after the fact but in his mind will attach value to the reading material.
Then within a day YOU ask him if you can borrow one of his magazines. Let him out of the corner of his eye see you devouring it. Let him see you thinking something is cool. Suppose it is a bike magazine or a knife magazine...point out two knives and indicate that you think one is more cool that the other...then have a discussion about the merits (weight, throw-ability, price).
Get him hooked on the fact that reading let's him access information about things he is interested in.
Then as time goes on you will see which magazines get dog eared. Those will be the ones to purchase. Make a trip once a month and encourage him to try a different magazine each month. Continue to purchase the ones that he reads and drop the others off your list. Find new or used books on cool topics like "magic." Whatever hobby he has...take him to the library (get him his own card) and walk him through the process of finding that topic on the shelves. Let HIM do the typing on the electronic catalog (Subject Keyword: MAGIC), you sit off to the side and make him the main player. He touches the keyboard--you don't. He pulls the book from the shelf. He fills in the library card application--not you. You might have to look at the application and find the important words and write them down on a separate paper as a guide...but he does the actual application.
Then take him every two weeks to return his books and check out new ones. Make it a ritual and eventually it will become an awesome habit.
Another bit of advice. Purchase some board games that involve words. Then take the time to play them with your son. My wife didn't start speaking and using English until after age 5. She was basically non-verbal for her first five years and missed a huge language window. But would you believe Belinda just finished her Bachelors in Creative writing and is now on her way toward completing a masters degree? Why? Because her mother modeled reading and played Scrabble with her constantly while she was growing up.
Make the games fun for your son. Cook up some pizza or whatever his favorite food is and get out the game and play it while eating. Associate the "good food" with the desired activity. Then save desert for after the game. Make sure to let him win at least half the time. If it is no challenge for you then let him move two times for every one time of yours (or some other approach that makes you work for it).
Enjoy the process. Realize he may never become a "skilled reader." That's okay. He is still a terrific kid and might end up being a wonderful carpenter, ASL teacher, mechanic, or any other useful work he decides to pursue that fits his strengths and abilities.


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