Seeing language develop!

Where does the time go!!!

We now have two teenagers and a toddler! A walking, signing 1 year old. This stage of Zoe and Elijah’s lives is a blur to me. But this time around I am savouring every moment.

Carter is developing at such a pace that every day is an adventure!

I had every intention of keeping a record of his language development but it is happening at such a fast pace, I have not been able to keep up with him.

In this clip I’ve gathered clips of the types of vocab he is using in his expressive language. You can also see his receptive skills development. Since putting this together he has now started using ‘where’ in his expressive language!

To those who are not familiar with NZSL may feel that the movements Carter is making in the clips all appear the same and have no meaning. But if you watch closely you can see changes in handshape, movement, location and palm orientation – all the components that make up signs.

You can see him watching the signer intently and then mimicking and attempting to produce the signs. You can see him answering questions with signed responses and at one stage he responds via eye gaze!

You can also see babble and repetition of signs just as you would in a hearing child developing spoken language.

I shouldn’t be surprised as the research is clear that children acquire their first language naturally when they are surrounded by multiple users of the language in a variety of settings. But seeing it in action is so exciting!

You can see the brain working – the processing and then the response is so clear.

The research briefs that have come out of Gallaudet VL2 work are really useful. I find every time I read them I pick up on something different. I recommend all parents and professionals working with deaf or hard of hearing babies and children, should read the work done by VL2.

Eye Gaze and Joint Attention

• Deaf children perceive both language and non-linguistic information visually.

• Eye gaze and joint attention between child and caregiver function together as a foundation for the development of communicative competence.

• Deaf children with exposure to sign language from birth develop the ability to shift their eye gaze between objects and people in a frequent and meaningful way from an early age.

• Language input that occurs during episodes of joint attention is linked to enhanced vocabulary, language, and literacy development in both deaf and hearing children.

• Deaf children who have developed the pragmatic ability to manage, monitor, and self-regulate their own visual attention are more prepared for the complex visual exchanges that take place in the classroom.

Advantages of Early Visual Language :

  • The brain is most receptive to language acquisition during “sensitive periods” early in a child’s development.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing children who receive early intervention services have been found to have better language outcomes up to age five.
  • High levels of family involvement have been found to produce greater language development outcomes in deaf and hard of hearing children.
  • Acquiring a complete first language during early childhood is critical for later reading comprehension.
  • Learning two languages [that is, American Sign Language (ASL) and English] is advantageous for deaf and hard of hearing children.
  • A mother’s signing skills are predictive of later language development in deaf or hard of hearing children.
  • A language foundation is an important factor in spoken language development.


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My life

Zoe shares her reflection

- zoe l ferguson -

I was born deaf in New Zealand, my dad is deaf and my mum is hearing and my little brother Elijah who is hearing. My dad was born deaf and his family are all deaf, also my mum’s family are all hearing. I have the best of both worlds but I rather to be in deaf world because all my life in New Zealand I went to mainstream school and they have no deaf student only me.

When I was 3 years old my mum got a job in Australia in a deaf school, so me and my brother and my parents moved to Sydney. I went to a pre school next to the deaf school, I didn’t like it so my mum asked the principal of the deaf school to see if I can go to school early because I was 4 years old. I loved my school, I had lots of deaf…

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Language continues to develop!

Tonight Carter was playing happily on the floor and as we were all interacting with him and signing around him, he got so excited and then ‘told’ us an elaborate story about his day (well that’s what I reckon it was about!)

He is now babbling with real purpose and he knows exactly what he’s expressing – its gorgeous to watch. He is babbling with more rhythmical movements and when you look at this video you can see just in 5-6 weeks the change in the rhythm, location, complexity and the pace of the ‘signing’.


We attended an event put on by the Wellington Assoc for Deaf Children and Carter had a great time. As we were sitting for lunch Im so thankful to Elijah for having the camera on as he captured this!!! This is the first time that Carter has mimicked actual signs. He signs MUM FOOD. #proudmum


Everything is happening at such a rapid pace he is communicating more, he’s cut two teeth and has worked out how to move around the floor with a combination of dragging/crawling/rolling/bum shuffling!

Never a dull moment with this wee man in the house!

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I cannot remember what we did many moons ago when Zoe and Eli were babies. We have been looking for fun, engaging toys that are not sound based. It’s definitely a challenge!

I would be interested to hear from other parents of Deaf babies – what toys did your little ones love?

Many of the ‘sound’ toys also have lights and movement so they are accessible and fun, but they are so expensive that I don’t think its worth spending the money on them when sound is the main focus of them.


The toys that Carter loves and work well for Deaf babies are the traditional ‘back to basics’ toys – soft toys, stacking blocks, linking chains, puppets etc



From a very early age Carter loved to hold and now chew on these links


the bouncer had this toy attached with flashing lights



The one ‘v-tech’ toy we splashed out on – he loves to watch the flashing light! but only for a short time. Not a toy of choice.


this holds Carter’s attention and he is now working out that he can cause it to move! (love the concentration on his face in this pic)


cuddly toys are still a fave


balls are always a fave!


IMG_5336 (1)

building towers and knocking them down – definitely one of the favourite toys!



I recently found this toy (on sale!) and Carter loves it at bed time. When you push the tummy it plays a lullaby – which I find soothing 🙂 and it gently vibrates – which he finds soothing!








This is a gift Carter received from good friends of ours when he was born. This is one of his FAVOURITE toys. He is beginning to move around the floor and will move towards his dinosaurs everytime!

This year in school Zoe studied ‘Integrated Technology’- one of the assignments was to design and make a toy. Zoe thought about the situation with Carter and decided she was going use this as her focus. She created these soft cuddly hands that Carter can play with. They have movable fingers so that handshapes can be made!!


I am always on the look out for toys, books, puzzles that incorporate and celebrate Sign Language. So if you have a toy that you found was excellent for your Deaf baby, please let me know 🙂

I look forward to updating this as we find more and more fun and accessible toys.


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There are a number of checklists available to families that look at the developmental milestones and language development.

In NZ families with deaf children are  given the Monitoring Protocols and these are checked by the parents and AODC. They are a large cumbersome document and many parents I’ve spoken to find it over whelming and don’t bother with it. It’s a shame because there is some great info in the document and it can be a great guide for families and professionals to know what to look for next. It’s just such a mission to work through the numerous sheets of paper!

Given the right conditions, deaf and hard of hearing babies should be hitting their milestones at the expected ages and stages.

Another tool that we have as parents in NZ is the Well Child book, or as I still call it the ‘Plunket Book’.

Unfortunately the Well Child book is created for the majority and is not written for Deaf children. So each time we have a visit, as I sit and reflect I on the previous month and the skills Carter has mastered, I go through the vision checklist and tick each box, then I put a big strike through the ‘hearing’ questions. On occasion, I have altered the text to make it relevant to a signing child, or I have given an example of the Deaf behaviour that it equivalent to the milestone mentioned.
At the recent ANZCED 2016 conference I was fortunate enough to be presenting in a block alongside Dr Elizabeth Levesque, from Melbourne. Elizabeth works with families and has developed the developmental scale for English and Auslan.

Bilingual English and Auslan Developmental Scale

This is much easier to use than the Monitoring Protocols and is a great guide for families and professionals.

Please excuse the extremely loud tv in the background (oops) but you can see through these clips that Carter is hitting each stage and in fact is currently displaying some of the stages beyond his age!


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Reading with Dad


Introducing books to Carter is fun! He loves sitting on someones knee and sharing / eating a book!

Carter’s caregiver adds photos to his journal and its so lovely to see his face light up as he looks at photos of himself and others and the activities they have done that day.

He particularly loves looking at photos of ‘Brown Dog’!



In this video Carter is 5 months old and he is already attending to the book and to Oliver. You can see the way Oliver gains Carter’s attention by repeatedly pointing to a photo as well as repeatedly tapping him on the upper arm. Carter is learning that this is a means of gaining attention. Holding him tight with the left arm, frees up the right hand to produce the signs on the pageCarter is now trying to create handshapes (you can see a quick snippet of this at the end of the clip as Oliver signs duck)


Here is Carter enjoying the book by himself. These board books are great with the finger puppet included – the movement is engaging and attracts the baby’s attention.


And here is Oliver reading the same book to Carter. Notice how he is sitting with Carter, frees both of his arms so he can hold the book and sign and ‘hold’ the baby. As baby becomes more mobile this hold will not be safe. But in this small window of time where it is, its a great way to enjoy books and conversations together.

Depending on your level of comprehension in NZSL you may or may not realise that Oliver is not sticking to the text in the book. He is loosely telling the story, exaggerating signs and making it fun for Carter to watch and enjoy.

This is a really important part of enjoying books with little ones. Don’t stress over which signs you know and don’t know. Work from the pictures and follow the child’s interest and eye gaze. Explore the book together and create a story that you feel you can sign!


Reading with Deaf Children

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“He won’t have to be Deaf for long”

In the past 4 months, I have made so many trips to audiology and ENT, it’s mind-boggling!

The path to identification was a very different experience to that which we had with Zoe, 14 years ago. This time round we went through newborn hearing screening and were referred to audiology after two screening sessions resulted in ‘refer’. So we had confirmation when Carter was 15 days old as opposed to confirmation for Zoe at 15 months.

The screening sessions themselves were bizarre! I have been in many meetings where the process was discussed and the training for the screeners was mentioned. One of the things that stuck in my mind was that the screeners were trained to be very impartial in their dealings with the families. That they were not to use the word ‘fail’ and were to explain to families the many reasons for a ‘refer’ result eg fluid retention, noise interference, hearing loss. The main point was that the screeners are not to ‘scare’ the families, or advise them.

However, our experience of newborn hearing screening was different.

The screener entered the room pushing a trolley with a laptop on it. This was a shock initially as I had in my mind that the equipment they used for the screening was small handheld device. Instead it was a laptop and the a ‘half a headphone’ looking device that was held to Carter’s head.

ABR (image from Google)

I could see the laptop screen as the screening was happening. The graph had a green bar at the top and as the test began a black line appeared and tracked along the bottom of the graph, nowhere near the green bar. The screener looked unsettled and suggested that we try the other ear, same result. This created a ‘refer’ result.

The next day, another screener came in and repeated the test. The same result showed on the graph. I asked the screener was she expecting to see the black line to track within the green section her response was ‘yes we would hope so’. The result was ‘refer’ again.

The screener explained to me that we would need to go and see an audiologist for testing and that they would confirm/clarify what was happening. Then she dropped a clanger! she said “if he is Deaf, he wouldn’t have to be Deaf for long as they do cochlear implants very quickly now a days”! She then went on to tell me about the lovely cleaning lady who worked at the hospital – she had a cochlear implant and she could speak clearly, she wasn’t lonely and was happy! she even offered to bring the cleaner into the room for me to meet!

The ABR process was completely different! The audiologist was lovely! She gave me time to get Carter off to sleep and gave me breaks in the testing when she could see that he was beginning to stir.

She was also very unbiased and gave me information about everything!! (She had no idea that I worked in the field) – I felt like a mystery shopper! It was excellent to know that following the ABR where the results were conclusive and showed that Carter has a ‘profound bilateral hearing loss’ she proceeded to present me with information on hearing aids, NZSL, cochlear implants the lot! She even presented me with the ‘Sign with your baby’ DVD 😉 – she didn’t realise that I am the presenter on it 🙂 Sign with Your Baby

I really appreciated her balanced approach.

Hearing Aids:

We now have regular visits to audiology for new molds – due to the rate of growth of a newborn’s ears! The hearing aids are pretty powerful as they need to amplify the sound so much to meet Carter’s levels.

They give out a lot of feedback although the aural gel seems to be helping with that. He cannot hear the high pitch whistle, but I can. And so can shoppers in the mall (had a few strange looks from people at the shops!)

I am a bit slack with putting them on. Many days I am in the car and down the road when I remember that the hearing aids are still in the box on the table (oops)

I find that Carter tolerates the hearing aids more when he is in his car seat – I like them better when he is in his car seat as the feedback seems to be less.

Part of the newborn hearing screening – identification process, is a visit to the ENT.

We were given the appointment to see the ENT (7pm on a Thursday night!) We saw a locum who had come to Wellington to help reduce numbers on the waiting list for ENT. The appointment should really have been an ‘E’ appointment because it was all about Carter’s ears. He didn’t mention or check his nose or throat.

The focus, from the ENT’s perspective, was to discuss the process for cochlear implants and begin the process. He was taken aback when I politely declined the offer of bilateral cochlear implants. He had never had anyone decline and it didn’t sit well with him. He asked me to outline to him what I saw as being the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of cochlear implants – I have to wonder if he asks other parents, who do opt for CIs, to justify their decision also.

I tried to explain that CI’s are not off the table for discussion, but right now they are not something that we want for Carter. I see it as being elective surgery and the ENT did not.

He referred us to a local ENT – meeting her was completely different. She was lovely! Very experienced, knowledgable and respectful. She was happy to take the time and talk through everything. She has left the door open for us to keep in contact with her and ask questions or clarify points as needed.

One professional I have not mentioned in this is our Advisor on Deaf Children (AODC) – I’m sure it must have been weird for her to receive a referral with our names on it. As in my previous work as an AODC we were in the same team:) We are very fortunate to have her. Again she is balanced and respectful. She is a Speech Language therapist and knows NZSL. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience. She is happy to have as much or as little input with us as we see fit.

So although the past 4 months have been a roller coaster of medical visits – we have encountered some fantastic professionals in the field. We are grateful for their work with us.

Just as an aside – The phonak hearing aids came in this cool little bag. Turns out to be the best bottle bag ever! perfect size and keeps the bottles warm 🙂 Thanks Phonak.





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