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The Influence of ASL Fluency and Age of Acquisition on Perceptual Reasoning Skills in American Sign Language Users

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Poster B109 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Melody Schwenk1, Lorna C Quandt1; 1Gallaudet University

Background: A significant research gap exists in understanding the influence of ASL fluency and age of acquisition (AoA) on perceptual reasoning skills in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH+) population. Research has been examining the relationship between ASL fluency, AoA, and mental rotation in DHH+ people, finding a positive correlation between ASL fluency, mental rotation abilities, and perspective taking abilities (Kubicek & Quandt, 2021; Secora & Emmorey, 2020). We designed a study using the Block Design (BD) subtest of the The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV). The WAIS-IV has been criticized for its limited validity and accuracy in assessing cognitive capacity for individuals who primarily use American Sign Language (ASL), as it was exclusively normed for English speakers. Our research aims to investigate the impact of ASL fluency, AoA, and performance on a block design task in ASL users, focusing on perceptual reasoning skills. Methods: The study included three parzticipant groups: Deaf signers (n=22), Hard of Hearing signers (n=6), and hearing signers (n=12). Participants completed the Vandenberg-Kuse Mental Rotation Test, ASL Comprehension Test as a measure of ASL fluency , and Block Design task. Results: Results from multiple regression analyses looking at the relationship between VKMRT, Block Design, AoA, and ASL fluency, show that participants' perceptual reasoning skills are significantly predicted by age of acquisition and ASLCT scores. To demonstrate this, we looked at VKMRT as a predictor of BD scores and found a significant positive relationship (β = 0.394, p < .001). Further, findings indicated that participants with earlier age of ASL acquisition had higher BD scores (β = 0.584, p = 0.026), suggesting that individuals who acquired sign language at a younger age demonstrated better perceptual reasoning skills. Similarly, higher ASL fluency scores were associated with higher block design scores (β = 1.115, p = 0.025). Moreover, the interaction effects between hearing status and the other predictors revealed interesting patterns. The interaction term between being Deaf and age of acquisition showed a significant negative relationship with BDSS scores (β = -1.03293, p = 0.0494). This suggests that the impact of age of ASL acquisition on perceptual reasoning skills may vary depending on hearing status. Conclusion: Our study reveals that early exposure and higher ASL fluency are linked to improved performance on the block design task in DHH+ people. These findings have significant implications for the importance of supporting ASL acquisition and proficiency. Furthermore, by using neuroscience techniques to investigate the neural underpinnings related to these behavioral findings, future research can provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms through which ASL influences perception and cognition. While acknowledging the limitations of small sample sizes in ASL research, such studies offer valuable insights into how knowing ASL may impact perception and cognition. These results lay the groundwork for future research, advancing our understanding of ASL acquisition, as well as age of acquisition, and their impact on ASL users.

Topic Areas: Signed Language and Gesture, Control, Selection, and Executive Processes

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