Only 56% of children with hearing loss (HL) in elementary school and only 44% in high school are reading at grade-level (Geers et al., 2008). The literacy gap between children with HL and children with normal hearing (NH) is observable early: preschoolers and kindergarteners with HL score significantly lower on early literacy measures than children with NH (Easterbrooks et al., 2008; Nittrouer et al., 2012). Identifying the mechanisms underlying emergent literacy in the preschool years for children with HL is therefore crucial to begin to close the outcome gap. The long-term goal of this research program is to validate effective interventions for preschool children with HL that close the early literacy gap between preschoolers with HL and NH. Initially, we will identify the literacy acquisition mechanisms for children with HL and then build and validate interventions that address the identified mechanisms. Toward this goal, the aims of the proposed research are to determine the developmental influences between 1) phonological awareness and alphabetic knowledge, 2) phonological awareness and receptive vocabulary, and 3) expressive morphology and receptive vocabulary for preschoolers with HL. Children's emergent literacy skills will be assessed as they develop during preschool (Lonigan et al., 2000). The obtained longitudinal data will be analyzed using latent change score modeling, useful for identifying the developmental influences among co-developing constructs (McArdle, 2009). Latent change score modeling in conjunction with longitudinal data will enable us to identify the developmental influences among phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge, receptive vocabulary, and expressive morphology for children with HL. Identifying the unique developmental influences for children with HL relative to children with NH will lead to an improvement of theoretical models of emergent literacy to account for the unique literacy mechanisms of children with HL. Improved theoretical models will allow us to infer the malleable factors in emergent literacy development for children with HL, leading to hypothesis-driven intervention creation and improved clinical outcomes for this population.
The proposed research will help clarify the order of influence among emergent literacy constructs for preschoolers with hearing loss compared to preschoolers with normal hearing. These results will inform our theoretical understanding of the impact of hearing loss on emergent literacy development and may lead to the creation of effective interventions to improve literacy outcomes for children with hearing loss. This research is consistent with the mission of the NIDCD because it will help us understand literacy development for children with hearing loss and may lead to improved literacy outcomes for this population.