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Jane acknowledged difficulty with the comprehension of complex material, both in English and BSL, and singled out fingerspelling as being particularly problematic. Her sign production was good, and we saw no word finding or grammatical difficulties in Jane’s use of BSL.

Following an interview, we carried out comprehension tests. Jane did well on a simple test of BSL verb and sentence comprehension, but failed with more challenging tasks. When asked to carry out a series of complex BSL instructions, despite repetitions, she scored only four out of 10.

Her errors involved omissions of elements or substitutions of the wrong items. She repeated the task later in the session with written English instructions. Interestingly, Jane’s performance was now perfect. Finally, Jane completed an informal number recall task, where she had to repeat four digit telephone numbers. Despite repetitions, she could manage no more than two.

Our findings indicated problems with working memory, which impacted on the processing of complex language. Written language, which provides a stable record, was therefore facilitatory. However, fingerspelling, which places a heavy load on working memory, was problematic. We used these


The Compass Centre offers specialist assessments for clients who communicate in sign

conclusions to offer advice about how to handle communication at work to ameliorate some of these problems.

Pauline, aged 6, was profoundly deaf and had been exposed to BSL since birth by her deaf parents. A BSL interpreter and a special needs teacher supported her in a mainstream school. However, staff were concerned about her limited communication, frequent requests for repetition and regular misunder- standings. The school psychologist found her non-verbal skills to be within the normal range.

We used video recordings of Pauline communicating at school and with her mother as the basis of our assessment. In addition, a deaf researcher administered tests. It was clear Pauline did not understand complex signing. She lost interest and looked away from the signer when longer sentences or sentences with embedded constituents were used, suggesting processing difficulties.

Pauline’s mother used shorter sentences when signing to her at home. Pauline’s profile on the BSLRST was notably erratic: she failed some of the simpler items and passed some of the more difficult ones.

Pauline’s vocabulary was age-appropriate, but she was unable to construct a coherent



narrative and produced short, simple sentences with uninflected verb forms, using almost no BSL grammar – particularly unusual for a child in a deaf family. Overall, her language was more like that of a three year old. Her strengths were her use of gesture and facial expression. We concluded that Pauline’s language showed signs of atypical language development, similar to a language disorder in spoken language.

We provided advice on specific areas of BSL grammar to target for improvement. Following our assessment, Pauline moved to a school for deaf children to maximise her input in BSL, to receive additional specialist support in BSL and to allow her increased social contact with a signing peer-group.

The future The Sign Language Assessment Clinic is a valuable specialist resource that complements local services where relevant expertise is often missing. We have an open referral policy and video samples rather than live assessment may be used. For further information contact Bethan Lewis, tel: 020 7040 8288, email: compass@city.ac.uk

The clinic is central to the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research (DCAL) Centre funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and which involves collaboration between University College London and City University staff. The Centre’s projects include studies of BSL development and atypical signing, including autism, Usher syndrome, and developmental and acquired language impairments.

Ros Herman, Nicola Grove, Jane Marshall (SLTs), Gary Morgan (Psychologist), Bencie Woll (Sign Linguist) Department of Language and Communication Sciences City University, London

References: Dunn ML.Pre-Sign Language Motor Skills.Tucson, Arizona:Communication Skill Builders,1982. Grove N.Developing Intelligible Signs with Learning- Disabled Students:A Review of the Literature and an Assessment Procedure.British Journal of Disorders of Communication 1990; 25, 265-293. Herman R,et al.Assessing BSL Development: Production Test (Narrative Skills).London:City University publication, 2004. Herman R,Holmes S,Woll B.Assessing BSL Development: Receptive Skills Test.Coleford:Forest Books,1999.

April 2006 bulletin


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