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Theory of Mind and the DHH Learner

This 3 episode series will provide information about theory of mind and the DHH learner
A student with cochlear implant in group setting

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Session 1: Reading Comprehension, Language and Theory of Mind Skills in Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

Learning to read is a complex process, that is a fundamental skill essential for life in the twenty first century. Historically, the reading comprehension skills of many deaf and hard of hearing children (DHH) have lagged significantly behind typically hearing children of the same age. In recent years, advances in hearing assistive devices, the introduction of newborn hearing screening, and earlier fitting of appropriate devices leading to earlier intervention, has impacted positively on the language and reading comprehension skills of DHH children. Many DHH children, however, still do not develop reading comprehension skills commensurate with their peers. While much is known about how children learn to read, research continues to advance the understanding of these complex and nuanced skills. Recent research supports the inference that Theory of Mind skills contribute to reading comprehension development in DHH children. This research emphasizes the interplay between Theory of Mind skills and the ability to understand emotional state terms, mental state words, and answer “why” questions. Interventions designed to develop ToM skills have been useful in supporting the development of DHH children’s ToM and reading comprehension skills and this has implications for teachers. Some simple to implement strategies that may contribute to the development of ToM skills in DHH children include the use of “why” questions and the integration of emotional state terms and mental state words, into the students program. The dearth of research regarding the interplay between ToM and reading comprehension, however, highlights the need for further this area.

Session 2: The importance of using 'why' questions, emotional state terms and mental state words when working with deaf and hard of hearing students

This presentation explores the current research in regard to the use of “why” questions and the importance of emotional state terms and mental state words for deaf and hard of hearing students. Using why questions encourages explanations or reasons for a particular situation, action, or belief and helps to uncover motives, intentions, and causes, fostering deeper understanding. Emotional state words, help to express and communicate emotions effectively, enabling others to understand and empathize with others emotional experiences. Many basic emotional state words are routinely discussed with students, and include words such as happy, sad, angry, but more nuanced feelings like content, frustrated, elated, or anxious are often not explored. Mental state terms allow individuals to communicate their perspectives and experiences, aiding in effective interpersonal understanding and empathy. The importance of why questions, emotional state words, and mental state terms cannot be underestimated as they help promote clarity, empathy, and a deeper understanding of oneself and others. The Information in this session focusses on the importance of the three aforementioned concepts and the role they play in the development of oral language, Theory of Mind and reading comprehension skills. The presentation provided demonstrates how these three concepts can be incorporated by Teachers of the Deaf in group or individual sessions.

Session 3: Sarcasm and the Deaf Learner

Understanding and using sarcasm, relies on the ability to infer meaning beyond the literal interpretation of words and often involves saying something opposite to what is intended or using irony to convey a message. Sarcasm involves higher-order thinking and is intertwined with theory of mind skills. Sarcasm involves the ability to attribute mental states to others, recognize their intentions, and interpret meaning beyond the literal level of communication.

The development of understanding sarcasm can vary among individuals and is influenced by various factors such as contextual cues, tone, cognitive abilities, language skills, cultural background, and social experiences. Research suggests that the ability to understand and use sarcasm is dependent on the mastery of earlier Theory of Mind (ToM) skills. In typically hearing children, understanding sarcasm typically begins to emerge around the age of 6 or 7 years and is generally understood by the age of 11-12 years (Peterson, Wellman & Slaughter 2012). Understanding and using sarcasm continues to develop throughout adolescence and into adulthood, as individuals gain more exposure to social interactions and refine their language and communication skills.

There is currently little research available regarding the development of ToM skills in deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students, particularly the development of sarcasm during the middle years of schooling and beyond. The small number of research projects completed, indicate the understanding of sarcasm is more problematic for DHH children and young adults than their typically hearing peers. Gregory, Bishop and Sheldon (1995) noted that 56% of young adults with a severe to profound hearing loss had difficulty understanding sarcasm.

In this presentation the importance of DHH students understanding sarcasm in both oral and written language will be discussed and some easy to implement techniques for use by Teachers of the Deaf (ToDs) to promote the development of sarcasm will be outlined.