One Family’s Journey: Will My Deaf Son Ever Learn to Read?


By Jeanine Owen Roybal

As an active parent of a severe to profoundly deaf child and an educational interpreter, I have searched out many ways to educate my son. I am distressed by the dismal statistics about reading skills topping out at the third to fourth grade level for our kids. He is only deaf…he does not have a learning disability. Sadly enough, English reading comprehension and writing skills nationwide reportedly increase by only one or two grade levels between age ten and when the child leaves high school. As a parent, this was not acceptable to me.

My son had 24 hours of tutoring every summer for nine years as part of his IEP. This only maintained what he had previously learned; tutoring didn’t promote progress toward closing his gap in reading skills. Various studies mentioned that one-on-one educational communication and repetition is the key. Well, this key was tried and didn’t fit. Most children aren’t a blank kwikset door key. I like to say that they aren’t all a size nine---they don’t fit into the same shoe box! My son, like all children, is unique. He has his own abilities that needed to be addressed and built upon. Apparently, the box no longer fit the student or at least not my student. 

Even though we read together, discussed jokes, and all the things I did with his hearing brothers, something was still missing. The current system required an overhaul of sorts. It was time for me to see (find) the larger picture. We knew what had been done; now I wanted to try what had not yet been explored.

I contacted the various tutoring programs that were nationally advertised only to find out that these programs DO NOT work with deaf students. They were not willing to try to help my son at any cost since they could not adapt their methods for my son’s learning needs. In the general population of our society, basic educational supports for our deaf /hard of hearing children are not a priority. They can get Vocational Rehabilitation after they graduate. After graduating! Aren’t we supposed to educate them so that they can graduate? I was confused. We should be repairing our failing system, not supplementing and enabling it, but that is another topic for another day.

During the course of his education, we tried:

  1. Phonics- on the mouth, in print, and on the hand (simultaneously)
  2. A three pronged approach of coordinating his speech therapy,  vocabulary words, and desk top flash cards/lists
  3. Self-contained classrooms
  4. Mainstreamed classrooms
  5. Pocket electronic/paper back dictionaries and a thesaurus
  6. Idiom books
  7. Comic books
  8. The  AT&T Ogo
  9. The T-Mobile Sidekick
  10. Computer courses
  11. Magazine subscriptions
  12. The newspaper sports and comics sections
  13. Speech competitions
  14. Bribery
  15. Anything the schools offered:  Fairview, Bridges, etc…
  16. Lists of sight words (and those seen on the streets, highways, malls, billboards, etc…)
  17. Grocery/clothing/drug store shopping ( kinesthetic)
  18. Tutoring
  19. Book reports
  20. Unix testing
  21. I.Q. testing and analysis
  22. Restaurant menus
  23. Closed Captioning (very important)
  24. Letter writing/e-mailing
  25. Poetry
  26. Girls (like boys who read)
  27. And finally… The EyeQ reading program

Now, the last program allowed him to go from a 2.3 comprehension level to a 4.95 comprehension level in about a year’s time. This was the most improvement he has made since elementary school!

He now has the confidence/ability to attend a community college. He is currently attending college in Texas. His motivation has continually increased since his reading has improved. The world has new meaning and he can be a part of it. He is planning on a good job, a family, and a fun life that he can provide for himself through gainful employment and the mental, emotional, and financial independence employment allows!

Statistically speaking, only eight percent of our deaf children graduate from a college with an associate’s degree or above. How can they be competitively employed at that rate? How can we expect them to be independent and support themselves without the ability to read on a personal level let alone on a business level?  In human nature, we don’t know what we don’t know! Our illiterate and under-literate deaf children are increasingly affected and become oppressingly limited in their options for a better life.

Parents, siblings, guardians, family members, I write this to encourage you to please never stop, never give in, never quit when it comes to finding a reading program for your family member who is deaf. Yes, the frustration of perseverance leads to many wasted tears, unfruitful experiences, painful encounters, thwarted hopes, and some days…even despair. Yet, that one moment when it all comes together; when you find the one thing or set of things that connects, unlocks and  unleashes a child’s inner potential that we have all seen squashed – this is their new beginning. I cannot tell you the pride I feel in my son for never letting me give up. For stepping up, after fighting it for so many years, and accepting his own responsibility in learning and his willingness (even though it may have been forced at times) to stand with me in our search for his key to success…a reading program that works for him.

I am currently running a small trial of the EyeQ program with students in middle school, and am seeing some impressive results. I have had to make some modifications in the program for deaf/hh students and am working with the publisher to make the program even more accessible to students, schools and families.  ~

Editor’s note: Ms. Roybal is a parent of four boys, including a deaf adult son, and an educational interpreter in Colorado. She can be reached at


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