Platypus Playhouse – Research

Research is often very technical, using medical and academic terminology. To help parents navigate the overflow of information out there, we have searched for, curated and then summarised over 50 papers- all relating to deafness.

To start you off, we have provided some easy -to-read summaries of the benefits of learning Auslan through play.

The Importance of rich childhood experiences for deaf and hard of hearing children

What was this paper about?

Research in the early childhood field has found that deaf children’s language development is greatly influenced by early identification of their hearing loss, followed by fitting of assistive listening devices, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants and commencement in a high-quality family-centred early intervention program, preferably within the first few months of life.

This paper prepared by Dr Elizabeth Levesque highlights the important role parents and caregivers play in ensuring that their young deaf children are provided with the best opportunities to develop to their full potential and gain a strong identity.

What are some of the key points?

  • More than 90% of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, most of whom have little to no experience or knowledge of deafness.
  • Parents of a newly-diagnosed deaf child can find it challenging to understand the communication needs of their child and to foster interactions that lead to favorable language outcomes.
  • A child’s early years are a critical time for laying the foundations for learning and forming identity.
  • Research has found that a combination of early diagnosis, fitting of assistive listening devices and high-quality family-centered early intervention programs promote positive interactions and active participation and advocacy for their children.
  • Compelling evidence supporting a bilingual approach to language acquisition provides significant benefits to deaf children at critical stages in their development- regardless of their degree of hearing loss.
  • Families who choose to immerse a very young deaf child in a bilingual environment provide a ‘safety net’ to gain at least one strong language for future learning.

“There is strong evidence that a bilingual approach, provides significant benefits for a deaf child’s language and intellectual development at critical stages in their development, irrespective of their degree of hearing loss.”

– Dr. Elizabeth Levesque

Click here to access a PDF of the research paper

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Rethinking literacy: Broadening opportunities for visual learners.

What was this article about?

This article presents a model of how deaf and hard of hearing children’s literacy development can be supported through their strengths – through sign language and various visual modes of learning.

What were the key findings?

    • Compared with their hearing peers, deaf and hard of hearing children are behind with their reading skills, yet deaf children of deaf parents usually read well.
    • Weaknesses in reading skills among deaf and hard of hearing children calls for rethinking a conventional approach to teaching literacy.
    • We can draw on the strengths of deaf and hard of hearing children as visual learners and the strategies of deaf parents in making print come to life.
      Social interaction plays a key role in children developing their skills with sign language and printed English.

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Enhancing Early communication through infant sign language

What was this study about?

This study involved two experiments in training infants to sign, using training procedures adapted from a previous study, where three infants (aged 6 to 13 months) each learned a sign in less than four hours of training. It was building on research into the benefits of teaching signing to hearing babies before they have learned to speak.

What were the key findings?

  • The first experiment involved a 10-month-old baby with Down syndrome and a 6-month-old infant with typical development. The second experiment involved two typically developing infants, aged 9 and 10 months.
  • The adapted training method involved having an experimenter model the sign, then, if necessary, physically prompt the sign by moulding their baby’s hands to form the sign. If the infant performed an approximation of the sign, the experimenter would physically correct the infant by gently guiding their hands.
  • The experimenter would provide the infant with toys, food or attention when they made the sign, regardless of whether the sign was prompted or independent. After reinforcing the sign with the toys, food or attention, they would repeat the process by modelling the sign again, after a specific delay that would gradually increase.
  • The second experiment aimed to replace infant crying and whining with signing. Signs were trained using a similar approach to the first experiment, but when sign training was introduced, crying and whining no longer resulted in the experimenter providing toys, food or attention.
  • Each sign training session was five minutes long. Sessions were conducted one to three or four times a day, five days per week. After many sessions, the infants showed high levels of signing without prompting. The second experiment resulted in a great reduction in crying and whining when the infants were using a high level of independent signing.
  • There is a lot of research that indicates language delays are a risk factor for the development of behaviour problems. The study concludes that sign training from a young age could potentially help prevent behaviour problems in young children who may be at risk due to developmental delays, language delays or sensory impairment.

“Sign training could help prevent behaviour problems in young children with language delays.”

-Rachael H. Thompson et al. 2007

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Acquiring Auslan as a First Language

What was this paper about?

This article authored by Dr. Elizabeth Levesque, describes Auslan (Australian Sign Language), the primary language of the Australian Deaf community, and explains in detail many stages that babies and children go through in learning to sign fluently.

Babies are receptive to discovering the underlying units, rules and patterns of the language around them, starting in their first weeks after birth. Research indicates that whether acquiring spoken or signed languages, children learn the structures that make up language in a similar way, through interacting with their primary caregivers.

“Babbling includes seven ‘unmarked hand-shapes’, basic hand configurations”

– Dr. Elizabeth Levesque

What were the key findings?

  • Babies and children meet a series of the same language milestones in either sign language and spoken language, or both if they grow up bilingual.
  • Between eight months and 16 months, babies produce their first sign. Studies show that children generally produce their first 10 signs at around 12 months of age and the first 50 signs from between 19 and 24 months. At about 16 months, they start to combine two signs. Later they start to develop the grammar of sign language and their language use becomes more complex.
  • By eight years old, children become more confident communicators in sign language.

What are the seven ‘unmarked hand-shapes’?

At around four to seven months of age, in the same way hearing babies begin to babble vocally, babies acquiring sign language begin to babble on their hands. In this stage, babble includes seven ‘unmarked hand-shapes’, basic hand configurations.

Manual and early sign production incorporate seven ‘unmarked hand-shapes’.

Source: Acquiring Auslan as a First Language- Dr Elizabeth Levesque

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Bilingual Bimodal approach to Language Acquisition

What was this paper about?

This Australian study examined which factors contributed to the language outcomes of young deaf children whose hearing parents exposed them to English and Auslan early in their development.

The participants were eight severe-to-profoundly deaf children and their hearing parents living enrolled in a Victorian Department of Education and Training bimodal bilingual early childhood intervention program for deaf children and their families.

The study measured the quality of the parents’ bilingual input – how much they engaged with the English-Auslan approach, their proficiency in Auslan, their language use and how flexible they were in adapting to their child’s changing preferences for spoken or sign language during the study.

What were the key findings?

    • The study identified children with better outcomes had parents who were more sensitive to their communication needs, maximising their child’s engagement, providing rich language experiences and being led of their children’s language preferences.
    • Different communication strategies measured parents’ sensitivities to their child’s language needs including: visual attention, responding to the child’s preferred communication, adapting communication, and gaining a child’s attention.
    • Parents are encouraged to be sensitive to their child’s language needs by following whether they use sign or spoken language and reciprocating by responding in the same language promoting a child-led choice of modality, rather than the choice being led by the preference of parents or professionals.
    • Other communication strategies included exposing children to spoken or sign language being used exclusively by one person; for instance, a Deaf sign language tutor only using Auslan, or a parent only using speech.

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