Sunday, March 13, 2011

Primer #1 on Deaf Can/Can't

Every so often, I'll get a particular comment about Fingerprints on critique sites—something about Tasmin (the Deaf character) displaying unrealistic English skills.

These commentators mean well and undoubtedly speak from their personal experience, so I don't mind.  I see it as opportunity to spread a little knowledge.

When I was in grad school, we frequently discussed the hated statistic: Most deaf people read at a fourth grade level.  Please note that the statistic on that website is actually that the median reading level among 17- and 18-year-olds in the sample was 4.0, so there's one inaccuracy that creeps into the discussion.  Generalizing that, half of the individuals in the sample read at or below that level ... and half read at that level or above.

Another thing to note: The literacy statistics among the general U.S. population aren't too great, either.  Check here for some stats that those in medical fields should keep in mind.  There are a lot of reasons for this, including school performance, education level of parents, and language access.

That last point—language access—is likely the biggest hurdle for deaf kids.  The most accessible language is most likely not one that's used in the home when the deaf kid comes along.  An exception is when there is a Deaf parent (or two), which does happen, but overall isn't that likely.  Some hearing parents dive right into signing classes and/or take other steps, working their tails off to help their kids succeed.

Regardless, a huge number of variables are involved ... enough to make generalizations pretty useless.

What I do know is that I've worked with deaf students on both ends of the spectrum.  I've known deaf kids who read above grade level.  I know several others in high school who read and write at or very close to their grade level.  It happens, and if I see it at our tiny little school, it happens everywhere to one degree or another.

So do I stand by Tasmin's skills?  Absolutely, and not just because the character is meant to be unusually intelligent.  I chose to focus on the "can" ... and the only thing Tasmin can't do is hear.


Mindy McGinnis said...

Nice. I like your stats about the reading level of hearing students. Good job back it up with research, baby!

Anonymous said...

*thumbs up*

Or in my case *paws up*