Children with hearing impairment are at risk for poor attainment in reading decoding and reading comprehension, which suggests they may have difficulty with early literacy skills prior to learning to read. The first purpose of this study was to determine if young children with hearing impairment differ from their peers with normal hearing on early literacy skills and also on three known predictors of early literacy skills – non-verbal cognition, executive functioning, and home literacy environment. A second purpose was to determine if strengths and weaknesses in early literacy skills of individual children with hearing impairment are associated with degree of hearing loss, non-verbal cognitive ability, or executive functioning.
I assessed seven children with normal hearing and 10 children with hearing impairment on assessments of expressive vocabulary, expressive morphosyntax, listening comprehension, phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, non-verbal cognition, and executive functioning. Two children had unilateral hearing loss, two had mild hearing loss and used hearing aids, two had moderate hearing loss and used hearing aids, one child had mild hearing loss and did not use hearing aids, and three children used bilateral cochlear implants. Parents completed a questionnaire about their home literacy environment.
Findings showed large between-group effect sizes for phonological awareness, morphosyntax, and executive functioning, and medium between-group effect sizes for expressive vocabulary, listening comprehension, and non-verbal cognition. Visual analyses provided no clear pattern to suggest that non-verbal cognition or degree of hearing loss were associated with individual patterns of performance for children with hearing impairment; however, three children who seemed at risk for reading difficulties had executive functioning scores that were at the floor.
Most prekindergarten and kindergarten children with hearing impairment in this study appeared to be at risk for future reading decoding and reading comprehension difficulties. Further, based on individual patterns of performance, risk was not restricted to one type of early literacy skill and a strength in one skill did not necessarily indicate a child would have strengths in all early literacy skills. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate all early literacy skills to pinpoint skill deficits and to prioritize intervention goals.