Center Papers

Koo, Crain, LaSasso & Eden (2008)

Koo, D., Crain, K., LaSasso, C., & Eden, G. (2008). Phonological awareness and short-term memory in hearing and deaf individuals of different communication backgrounds. Annals of the New York Academy of Science. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

Previous work in deaf populations on phonological coding and working memory, two skills thought to play an important role in the acquisition of written language skills, have focused primarily on signers or did not clearly identify the subjects' native language and communication mode. In the present study, we examined the effect of sensory experience, early language experience, and communication mode on the phonological awareness skills and serial recall of linguistic items in deaf and hearing individuals of different communicative and linguistic backgrounds: hearing nonsigning controls, hearing users of ASL, deaf users of ASL, deaf oral users of English, and deaf users of cued speech. Since many current measures of phonological awareness skills are inappropriate for deaf populations on account of the verbal demands in the stimuli or response, we devised a nonverbal phonological measure that addresses this limitation. The Phoneme Detection Test revealed that deaf cuers and oral users, but not deaf signers, performed as well as their hearing peers when detecting phonemes not transparent in the orthography. The second focus of the study examined short-term memory skills and found that in response to the traditional digit span as well as an experimental visual version, digit-span performance was similar across the three deaf groups, yet deaf subjects' retrieval was lower than that of hearing subjects. Our results support the claim (Bavelier et al., 2006) that lexical items processed in the visual-spatial modality are not as well retained as information processed in the auditory channel. Together these findings show that the relationship between working memory, phonological coding, and reading may not be as tightly interwoven in deaf students as would have been predicted from work conducted in hearing students.

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