ASL Tests of Learning and Memory

Description of the Project

While working at UCCD in San Francisco, Dr. Pollard and two collaborators conceived, developed and piloted two ASL-based tests of verbal learning and memory, the Signed Paired Associates Test (SPAT) and the ASL Stories Memory Test. Psychologists have long been unable to assess verbal (i.e., language-mediated) brain functions in deaf individuals because existing verbal tests were auditory and/or English-based and therefore biased for the majority of deaf individuals who lacked sufficient hearing or English fluency and/or whose native language was ASL. Fair, reliable tests of verbal learning and memory are desperately needed for the deaf population in order to better assess intelligence, learning disabilities, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and a host of other disorders. Dr. Pollard worked closely with project director Dr. Asa DeMatteo and deaf ASL expert (and poet) Ms. Ella Lentz to develop and refine the content of the SPAT and ASL Stories tests. Both tests were conceived in ASL, not translated from English, though the intent and structure of the tests bear similarity to the Paired Associates and Logical Memory subtests, respectively, of the widely-used (with hearing people) Wechsler Memory Scale (Wechsler, 1987). The SPAT consists of 7 "easy" (semantically related) sign pairs (e.g., long - short) and 7 "hard" (semantically unrelated) sign pairs (e.g., cheese - shoe), which were selected based on free association frequencies from deaf subjects. The 14 sign pairs are presented repeatedly over four learning trials. Following a 20 minute delay, a free recall and cued recall trial occur. Six scores are generated: (1) free recall, easy pairs, (2) free recall, hard pairs, (3) free recall, total, (4) free recall plus cued recall, easy, (5) free recall plus cued recall, hard, and (6) free recall plus cued recall, total. The ASL Stories Memory Test consists of two action-filled stories involving deaf characters and many specific factual details. The stories were conceived in ASL and then recorded on videotape with Ms. Lentz as storyteller. Pollard and Lentz made a number of adjustments to the stories during pilot testing, in particular, increasing the number of factual details until pilot subjects shows an acceptable "spread" in their recall performance. Subjects watch each story and then re-tell it (on videotape), attempting to recount every detail accurately, both immediately after having watched the story and again after a 20 minute delay. In their preliminary study of the SPAT, involving 45 healthy deaf subjects, DeMatteo, Pollard, and Lentz (1987) reported the test's norms and the finding deaf subjects, like hearing subjects on similar tests, show efficient learning curves, learn semantically related words (signs) more rapidly than unrelated pairs, and retain associations effectively over a delay period. Upon joining the faculty of URMC, Pollard continued using the SPAT clinically and studying its efficacy. Rediess, Pollard & Veyberman (1996) reported the findings of another normative study employing 38 healthy deaf subjects and comparing their SPAT performance to a clinical sample of 37 deaf individuals referred for neuropsychological evaluation. They found the performance of the healthy deaf sample was quite comparable to that reported by DeMatteo et al. (1987). Rediess et al. also demonstrated that the clinical sample of deaf subjects performed significantly poorer than the healthy sample on several aspects of the SPAT, suggesting that the test is effective in identifying verbal (signed) learning and memory deficits in deaf individuals. Further work needs to be done to bring the SPAT and the ASL Stories Memory Test in particular to readiness for dissemination. The SPAT, while essentially complete, including the above-referenced data regarding the normative properties and clinical utility of the test, still needs to be produced in a user-friendly format and a manual written for its proper administration and interpretation. The ASL Stories Memory Test has been administered to approximately 50 healthy deaf subjects, along with important additional cognitive skills measures such as the SPAT, the performance scale of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised, and a number of tests of basic neuropsychological functions (e.g., attention and motor function). The analysis of these data has been mostly, but not entirely, completed by (deaf) research assistants at the DWC. The completion of that work is needed including calculation of the test's norms and psychometric properties. (Inter-rater reliability scores will be calculable since several ASL-fluent research assistance have scored the subjects' responses.) Subsequently, production of the test materials (digitized versions of the stories on CD, scoring sheets, and an administrative manual will need to be accomplished. These finalization activities, which will bring both of these valuable tests to the point of readiness for dissemination, will be completed by year 3.

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