Hearing A–Z

Children learning Auslan: best practice, current issues, further work required

This information reflects consensus findings from Deafness Forum Australia’s national consultations in 2019 with several Deaf Societies, deafblind groups, service providers, educators and researchers. One thing that did not come up but we add to this report is that Auslan should be introduced in pre-schools.

DESTINATION: For families who have chosen for their child to learn Australian Sign Language (Auslan), the child will grow up having access to Auslan and access to their community. They will be able to use Auslan for communication in order to develop relationships, to gain an education and employment and enjoy a good quality of life. Families will be supported to learn Auslan in order to communicate with their child.

BEST PRACTICE APPROACH
Moeller et al., (2013) indicate a number of best practice principles when working with families who choose to communicate with their child using sign language:
1. Providers of early intervention services are trained professionals, usually with graduate degrees in their fields (which include deaf education, early childhood special education, speech/language pathologists, audiologists, counsellors/social workers and psychologists.) They receive regular additional in-service training
2. Services are provided to parents – the focus is on facilitative family-child interactions, rather than child-directed therapies. Families require 1 to 1.5 hours weekly and include information on child development, communication strategies etc. to build competence and provide the child with language-rich stimulations during natural interactions with the family (parents, siblings, extended family members)
3. Families are supported to gain the necessary knowledge, information, and experiences to make fully informed decisions
4. Families are contacted immediately after the diagnosis and the professionals who work with the parents are specially trained to provide emotional support, as needed, to deal with their responses
5. Family Support Facilitators/Regional Co-ordinators provide information and the guidance necessary to assist parents in choosing an initial approach to language use. This initial decision can be modified when appropriate. Options for various language approaches are available, and decisions may be changed over time
6. Children’s developmental progress is assessed twice yearly and results are used to help parents make or revise decisions on how to support their child’s development

ISSUES
• Given the disparity among the different approaches, parents need access to balanced information from an unbiased source in order to make an informed decision on the mode(s) of communication they want their child to use. There is evidence that parents are not receiving enough information on bilingual communication i.e. Auslan and English as an option for their child
• There is evidence in the literature that parents can experience negative emotions when service coordination is provided by individuals without the core knowledge and skills for working with children (Yoshinago-Itano, 2014). ECEI partners do not have this core knowledge
• NDIS plans need to contain enough funding to allow for the intensive exposure to Auslan that the family needs in order to learn the language and become fluent. This also needs to be ongoing as language development will take time and needs individualising as skill levels increase
• It is critical for the child’s family to learn Auslan otherwise the child becomes isolated from their family
• Children need access to a community of language users
• Children who communicate using Auslan are usually bilingual (i.e. use Auslan and spoken English) and will need continued access to hearing services
• Families should be given access to Auslan as a language option, even if they are choosing English as their child’s first language
• While opportunities currently exist for families to learn Auslan, this is an area that has been deficient for families who choose Auslan and there is a need for clearer pathways to be established

Some issues exist for all deaf children regardless of choice of first language access:
• Regional and remote families need solutions that provide them with equitable access to the support services that they require in order to pursue their chosen approach to early intervention e.g. Auslan at Home, speech therapy, device support
• Families who do not speak English will need additional supports
• Language exposure needs to begin early, and meaningful, accessible and ongoing interactions need to occur in order to learn the language
• Access to English is important – for some children this will be through spoken English; and for all deaf children, it will be with written English

FURTHER WORK REQUIRED
1. Language assessment
It is important to maintain a focus on acquiring more information on early language acquisition in Auslan. There is a need for more quality evidence-based information about infant development of Auslan skills and there is also a need to build professional capability in monitoring, sampling, and analysing language abilities as well as the capability in intervening in language acquisition based on that analysis

2. Resources for families

3. Workforce capacity
a) Conduct a needs assessment to determine (1) the number of available sign language instructors with the qualifications in sign language and family/infant education and (2) available funding sources
b) Develop systems that ensure that neither geographic location nor socioeconomic status limits access to competent and skilled sign language instructors. State systems should consider utilisation of all technology, including computer and videophones, to support teaching families
c) Establish and conduct training for Auslan instructors that includes strategies and techniques for teaching sign language to families of infants and toddlers
d) Establish a quality assurance program for Auslan instructors of parents/families. The program should (1) assess their fluency in and knowledge of Auslan and (2) determine their ability to tailor the instruction so that families are prepared to communicate with infants and very young children
e) Conduct a needs assessment to determine the number of professionals with the qualifications and skills required to serve as an Auslan instructor for families/parents of infants