Giving Children the Gift of Spoken Language and Literacy

Voices from AG Bell

Meredith Sugar
Giving Children the Gift of Spoken Language and Literacy

This edition of Volta Voices touches on one of the most important issues to parents as well as professionals in the field—language, learning and literacy. Language is fundamental to our interactions with others and to every aspect of our lives. It’s how we express our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Language shapes our perception of reality, and philosophers have called it the “light of the mind.” Noted linguists like Noam Chomsky said that our children are born with the ability to learn language and that the brain contains systems for recognizing patterns of sound. When we give our children who are deaf and hard of hearing the gift of listening, spoken language and literacy, we are opening doors for them by giving them the ability to communicate and interact with the world around them.

This summer, professionals will be able to expand their knowledge of these cornerstones of practice at the 2015 AG Bell Listening and Spoken Language Symposium, July 9-11 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, which will explore “The Brain Science of Hearing: Connecting New Pathways to Spoken Language.” The symposium will share the exciting new research advances of the past decade from a broad range of disciplines that contribute to our knowledge of the science and practice in supporting children who are deaf and hard of hearing in developing and expressing spoken language and literacy.

Keynote presenter Lydia Denworth, a noted science writer, will highlight the circuits that sound creates in a child’s brain that lay the groundwork for networks that will bring spoken language, and in turn, are the foundation for learning to read. Ken Pugh, a Yale University researcher, will explore the relationship between phonological and auditory processing and the brain pathways used in reading. Registration is now open for the symposium which will offer professionals the opportunity to learn from leaders in the field, network and exchange ideas, and explore Baltimore’s world-famous inner harbor.

The symposium holds tremendous application for the entire listening and spoken language community—professionals and parents—in helping our children develop listening, literacy and reading skills. When I think about developing language and literacy for children who are deaf and hard of hearing, the widely quoted Nigerian proverb comes to mind—that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The message is that no child, family or individual is an island. For children who are deaf and hard of hearing, it takes the support of an extended family—brothers, sisters, grandparents and other relatives—professionals, educators and many others in the community to develop language, literacy and listening.

homepage slider 092414In my family, helping my son Jonah to develop spoken language and learn to read was a family affair. His two older brothers, Jack and Luke, were involved in Jonah’s therapy sessions where they learned strategies to help their younger brother, and became wonderful language models for Jonah. Jack would sit so unbelievably patiently with Jonah, then age 5, reading book after book to him, putting an extra “umph” into the “s” and “p” sounds to be sure Jonah picked up every crumb of language. His brothers are the reason that Jonah is able to speak and read as well as he does. This issue contains a wealth of strategies that parents can infuse into the fabric of their everyday lives to help their child with hearing loss develop language and reading. I welcome your suggestions on what has worked for your family.

Another focal point of our community is the network of AG Bell state chapters. They play an important role in contributing to the language, literacy and overall wellbeing of our children through purpose driven events that are language-rich and fun for the whole family. Chapters serve as a connection point for parents, teens and children to meet others who are on the same journey. Chapters have developed innovative programs and local partnerships to give families that could not otherwise afford hearing aids access to technology. They have developed social events where teens can meet and mentor other teens. Chapters connect parents to informational resources in learning about hearing loss. Over the next year, chapters will be a focus for AG Bell as the association strengthens its local network and builds strong state and national partnerships.

Our association is truly at an historical juncture as we celebrate 125 years since the time that Dr. Alexander Graham Bell first founded the American Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. We have much to celebrate as an association with a rich history—and an exciting future with new leadership, dynamic goals and a strategic plan that guides us forward.

Meredith Sugar, Esq.

Source: Volta Voices (2015): Volume 22, Issue 1.