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Signs Workshop: The Importance of Natural Gestures in the Promotion of Early Communication Skills of Children with Developmental Disabilities

14 Jan 2009-pp 245-254

TL;DR: The importance of natural gestures is emphasised and the framework and the development process of the "Signs Workshop" CD-ROM is described, which is a multimedia application for the promotion of early communication skills of children with developmental disabilities.
Abstract: This article emphasises the importance of natural gestures and describes the framework and the development process of the "Signs Workshop" CD-ROM, which is a multimedia application for the promotion of early communication skills of children with developmental disabilities. Signs Workshop CD-ROM was created in the scope of Down's Comm Project, which was financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and is the result of a partnership between UNICA (Communication and Arts Research Unit of the University of Aveiro) and the Portuguese Down Syndrome Association (APPT21/Differences).

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Signs Workshop: the Importance of Natural Gestures
in the Promotion of Early Communication Skills of
Children with Developmental Disabilities
Ana Margarida P. Almeida
1
, Teresa Condeço
2
, Fernando Ramos
1
, Álvaro Sousa
1
,
Luísa Cotrim
2
, Sofia Macedo
2
, Miguel Palha
2
1
Department of Communication and Arts, University of Aveiro, Campus de Santiago, 3810-
193 Aveiro
2
Differences, Child Developmental Centre, Centro Comercial da Bela Vista, Av. Santo
Condestável, Loja 32, Via Central de Chelas, 1950-094 Lisboa
Abstract. This article emphasises the importance of natural gestures and
describes the framework and the development process of the “Signs Workshop”
CD-ROM, which is a multimedia application for the promotion of early
communication skills of children with developmental disabilities. Signs
Workshop CD-ROM was created in the scope of Down’s Comm Project, which
was financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and is the result of a
partnership between UNICA (Communication and Arts Research Unit of the
University of Aveiro) and the Portuguese Down Syndrome Association
(APPT21/Differences).
Keywords: language and communication skills, augmented communication
systems, total communication (simultaneous use of signs and language),
multimedia production.
1 Introduction
The Down’s Comm Project, fully financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, is
the result of a partnership between the Communication and Arts Research Unit of the
University of Aveiro (UNICA) and the Portuguese Down Syndrome
Association/Differences (APPT21).
This project’s main objective was to research (and translate into an interactive
multimedia application) examples of natural gestures from the Portuguese culture, in
order to ensure the expansion and flexibility of its use by parent, educators and
therapist who care for children with developmental disabilities, particularly children
with difficulties in the development of speech.
Thus, it is intended to help in the creation of support strategies in order to promote
the early stage of sign utilization, understood as a critical link which ensures the
transition from the pre-verbal communication stage to the spoken language stage [1].

This research project resulted in the production of the Signs Workshop CD-ROM,
which is clearly directed to a population target characterized by a developmental
disability and speech difficulties from birth, and is assumed to be a working support
tool for parents, educators and therapists who work for the promotion of
communication and interactions skills.
Within this framework, the main objectives of the Signs Workshop CD-ROM are:
to promote the development of language and communication skills, at the pre-verbal
stage; to enable learning and access to different natural gestures, commonly used in
the Portuguese day to day culture; to provide, for each gesture, a set of information in
several formats (text, sound, image, video), enabling various and personalized
searches.
2 Communication Skills and Sign Communication Systems
Children with developmental difficulties, especially those with Down Syndrome,
present changes in the development and use of language, with particular emphasis at
the speech development level [2] [3] [4]. Hence, the subsequent difficulties to
communicate surface since the pre-verbal stage, which result in a general tendency to
show passivity in communicating and in a low ability to take initiative towards
interacting with other individuals.
Therefore, these children’s abilities to express themselves verbally are frequently
inferior to those of understanding [5] [6] [7]. In some cases, children may not even be
able to speak comprehensibly as the result of a deep developmental disability, great
hearing loss or great motor or neuro-muscular difficulties [5] [3].
Some studies suggest that, in these cases, the bridge or link between the pre-verbal
communication stage and the spoken language stage may be ensured by an early use
of signs, which should thus precede the introduction of verbal signs. This should also
be the time to promote a guided access and use of communication media [1] [8] [5]
[9] [10] [11].
It is within this framework that Augmented Communication Systems are proposed.
These systems provide an important support to message expression by the individuals
who present speech difficulties, either temporary or permanent. In this context, it is
important to identify Augmented Communication with all systems which supplement,
support or substitute speech.
The Sign Communication Systems or Sign Language Systems, when organized in
symbolic or coded signs, are examples of the Augmented Communication Systems
frequently used [12]. In effect, in the specific case of children with Trisomy 21, the
Augmented Communication System designated as Total Communication
(simultaneous use of signs and language) is intensively used as a temporary system of
transition during the early stages of speech development. This transition temporary
system is particularly appropriate to children who did not initiate speech exercise
around the 12-18 months of age, and who, in consequence, present signs of frustration
by their incapacity of being understood by parents, siblings or other individuals [12].
The application of this Total Communication System highlights, therefore, the
importance of using signs as a support to various communication functions, which

would not be possible any other way: request, make questions, ask for information,
express their own experiences or play.
From the viewpoint of parent-child interaction, the use of signs also enhances the
communication processes and their adaptation to the child’s abilities: the use of signs
that represent words, by the parents, occurs in contexts where they speak slower, use
shorter sentences and, probably, put into emphasis the words that are said and
signalled [13]. Another significant feature of simultaneous signalling and speech is
the fact that parents assure eye contact with the child while communicating with
them. Parents are, thus, in a better position to observe their children’s behaviour and
responses, and react accordingly [13]. The simultaneous use of visual and audio
communication forms may, then, facilitate information gathering and thus enhance
cognitive skills [13].
3 Portuguese Cultural Daily Life Signs Standardization
The research made by the APPT21/Diferenças team, with the objective of
standardizing the signs to include in the CD-ROM, was gathered among Portuguese
population (continent and islands) with diagnosed Down Syndrome, who, in an early
age, uses or has used, at some point, Total Communication (simultaneous use of
natural gestures and speech).
To achieve its goal, the team produced an inventory built from existing national
and international approaches: American Sign Language, Portuguese Sign Language
Book, Portuguese Makaton, “See & Say” of the Sarah Duffen Centre of Portsmouth,
and also information gathered from the experience of the APPT21/Differenças
therapist team [14] [15] [16].
The mentioned inventory (figure 1) was sent to parents whose children have Down
Syndrome and to therapists and educators who work with this population. They were
asked to identify the signs they use in daily life and to suggest others for the presented
concepts. They were also asked to provide information of other signs or concepts that
were not included in the inventory.
Fig. 1. Example of a sign in the inventory.
After analyzing the returned inventories, the team proceeded with the data
treatment: the suggested signs were added to the initial inventory, and others were
modified according to the parents and therapist’s recommendations. At the end of the
research, the team was able to gather and standardize 184 signs.

4 Specification and Development of the Multimedia Application
Once defined the objectives and contents for the application, functional requirements
specification proceeded: language selection (Portuguese, English, Spanish); sign
search (alphabetically, open field and by category); user profile creation (in order for
the user to store the favourite signs); user profile registration (by inserting a login);
user profile edition (user can remove, add or print favourite signs); sign search
according to profile (search for stored signs); sign search display (includes the sign
designation, text and audio description, video and graphic display sequences);
printing sign search display (includes the sign designation, text description and
graphic display sequences); signs in context (permits sign viewing from the same
context of the selected sign); adding signs to user profile (adds the selected sign to the
user profile); help section (user support for CD-ROM interaction and navigation).
5 Functional and Technical Design
After specifying the conceptual model which resulted from the identification of the
above mentioned functional requirements, the CD-ROM production was taken to the
next level – the functional design [17] – and a paper script was created. This allowed
not only having a clearer view of all functionalities to include in this application, but
also facilitated communication among the design team.
At this point, it was also initiated a technical viability study, with the objective of
beginning the parallel and iterative development of the Technical Design [17], as well
as to determine which technology would be more suitable for the production of this
application. In order to ensure the communication between the sign’s database and the
application’s interface, the team decided to use Microsoft Access and Macromedia
Director (with Xtras Datagrip, BuddyAPI and FileIO).
As soon as the script and the technical viability study were validated, a prototype
was developed. This prototype assumed a crucial role for the analysis, discussion and
correct definition of the functional objectives of the CD-ROM.
Simultaneous to the prototype creation, the team started on the communication design
studies: colour schemes, symbols/icons and graphic interfaces. The challenge of
providing adequate responses to specific social, technological and communicative
conditions, combined with the need to create a user-friendly interface with a fast
learning rate, lead to the specification of three key concepts which sustain the
communication design: space, lightness and order. Having that outlined, and in an
attempt to accomplish a clear and efficient visual scheme, three main colours were
defined: white, green and grey.
The symbol (figure 2), based upon a line sketch and with a clear hand-like
characteristic, represents two hands of a character with an open smile, and intends to
create an environment of involvement. The emotional aspect of this illustration meets
the sentimental feature of this application, balancing a more rational side manifested
in all structural and formal aesthetic of the CD-ROM: the green colour (fresh and
bright) offers it lightness and joy, and it is used as a distinguishing shade, allowing to
weaken the grey’s neutrality, which was chosen for the information elements.

Fig. 2. Symbol .
As far as interface designing is concerned, a grid/layout was created allowing the
establishment of structuring areas (navigation and contents) and of a set of navigation
icons, which in coherence with the formal language represent the main functions and
ensure an immediate viewing of all accessible fields (figure 3).
Fig. 3. Graphic Interfaces.
6 Content Creation and Edition
The design of the sign’s graphic representations (in different image sequences) was
made from a graphic simplification and systematization of the human figure (figure
4). This figure, reduced to a contoured line, is somewhat between a realistic
representation of the person who signals and a schematic representation, and adds a
more rational illustrative feature to the application. From the mentioned graphic
organization, was then possible to sketch the different sequences of the graphic
representations of the 184 signs (figure 4).

Citations
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References
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Book
01 Jan 1999-
TL;DR: This critical volume provides a framework for assessing and treating speech, language, and communication problems in children and adults with Down syndrome and offers valuable guidelines for assessing comprehension and production abilities, promoting language learning, and alleviate communication difficulties.
Abstract: "An excellent resource for families and professionals, [it] offers helpful advice throughout. Research shows that the more children are able to communicate and interact with their environments, the more quickly they will develop overall. This critical volume provides a framework for assessing and treating speech, language, and communication problems in children and adults with Down syndrome. The book offers valuable guidelines for assessing comprehension and production abilities, promoting language learning, and alleviating communication difficulties. For speech-language pathologists, clinicians, educators, researchers, and AAC specialists, this resource helps practitioners better evaluate and treat communication disorders in people with Down syndrome.

111 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Stefani Hines1, Forrest C. Bennett1Institutions (1)
TL;DR: Positive changes were seen in the development of children who were exposed to early intervention programs, and children with Down syndrome and their families are likely to benefit from early intervention.
Abstract: This article reviews studies evaluating the effectiveness of early intervention for children with Down syndrome. Evaluation of early intervention programs is difficult and challenging, given the wide variety of experimental designs and the limitations of research studies. Overall, however, positive changes were seen in the development of children who were exposed to early intervention programs. Children with Down syndrome and their families are likely to benefit from early intervention. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

98 citations


"Signs Workshop: The Importance of N..." refers background in this paper

  • ...This should also be the time to promote a guided access and use of communication media [1] [8] [5] [9] [10] [11]....

    [...]


Journal ArticleDOI
Janice Light1, Peter Lindsay2Institutions (2)
Abstract: To date, research and clinical attention in the field of augmentativeand alternative communication (AAC) has largely ignored the role of cognition. This paper explores some of the theoretical issues currently being addressed in the field of cognitive science and discusses the potential impact of these issues for persons who use AAC systems. Issues considered include the information-processing capabilities of human memory systems, the limitations of working memory, the knowledge structures of long-term memory, the encoding of information into memory, the retrieval of information from memory stores, the construction of mental models to make sense of the world, the role of metacognition in problem solving, and the nature of novice and expert performances. Case examples from the AAC field are used to illustrate how the theoretical constructs presented may apply to system design and to clinical and educational practice. Directions for further research to address the information processing issues in the AAC fie...

94 citations


"Signs Workshop: The Importance of N..." refers background in this paper

  • ...This transition temporary system is particularly appropriate to children who did not initiate speech exercise around the 12-18 months of age, and who, in consequence, present signs of frustration by their incapacity of being understood by parents, siblings or other individuals [12]....

    [...]

  • ...The Sign Communication Systems or Sign Language Systems, when organized in symbolic or coded signs, are examples of the Augmented Communication Systems frequently used [12]....

    [...]


Book
01 Jan 1998-
TL;DR: This is a revised dictionary of American sign language, introducing more than 1500 new signs and 4000 new illustrations that express each sign and allow the user to begin signing immediately.
Abstract: This is a revised dictionary of American sign language, introducing more than 1500 new signs and 4000 new illustrations. The 7000 signs in the book represent a large part of the ASL lexicon, and are supported by more than 10,000 illustrations of the hand, arm and facial motions that express each sign and allow the user to begin signing immediately. The dictionary includes signs which have recently come into vogue, such as "log on", "downtime" and "digital".

89 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This article describes the development of our interest and expertise in the teaching of reading to children with Down syndrome since 1980 and the insights that we have gained into the children's language learning difficulties while teaching them to read. The readers' attention is drawn to the links between spoken language skills and reading skills and the differences between the strategies an ordinary five year old can use when learning to read and those available to a child or teenager with Down syndrome. The methods of introducing and developing reading skills are outlined, emphasising the principles on which they are based. The same methods are advocated whatever the age of the child at the outset. The benefits of even limited reading instruction for developing good spoken language are emphasised.

87 citations


"Signs Workshop: The Importance of N..." refers background in this paper

  • ...From the viewpoint of parent-child interaction, the use of signs also enhances the communication processes and their adaptation to the child’s abilities: the use of signs that represent words, by the parents, occurs in contexts where they speak slower, use shorter sentences and, probably, put into emphasis the words that are said and signalled [13]....

    [...]

  • ...The simultaneous use of visual and audio communication forms may, then, facilitate information gathering and thus enhance cognitive skills [13]....

    [...]

  • ...Parents are, thus, in a better position to observe their children’s behaviour and responses, and react accordingly [13]....

    [...]


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