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Communication Development Laboratory

The research done in the Communication Development Lab seeks to identify parental communication styles and prelinguistic and early linguistic communication behaviors that are predictive of later language outcomes for children who are deaf and hearing.

  • ​​Overview

    Our long-term goal is to optimize the communication outcomes of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.​ We have two primary projects and several smaller collaborations underway that will move us toward that long term goal.

    Current Projects

    Mother-Toddler Communication Study

    Work in the lab on mother-toddler communication has been funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health. The grant is entitled Contributions of Gesture to the Linguistic Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss (R03 DC012647) and was awarded to Dr. Ambrose. This project is nearing completion and is in the final data collection stages. The overarching goal of this study is to better understand the relationships between gesture and spoken language for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.


    Early results from this work ​indicate that toddlers who are deaf or hard of hearing use gesture similarly to their peers with normal hearing, despite evidencing delays in spoken language development. The findings have implications for how professionals should counsel parents regarding communication strategies that will best support children's language development. Look for early results from this work in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology!

    Efficacy of an Early Intervention Addressing Needs of Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

    The lab recently received funding for this project through a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award number P20GM109023. The grant was awarded to Boys Town National Research Hospital and resulted in the creation of the Center for Perception and Communication in Children.

    This funding supports the lab's efforts to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of an early intervention program, entitled Caregivers Optimizing Achievement in Children with Hearing Loss (COACH). This early intervention program will utilize a coaching model to support caregivers of toddlers who are deaf or hard of hearing in their efforts to provide their children with high-quality linguistic environments and optimize their children's hearing assistive device use. This work is significant because it will increase the evidence base regarding early intervention practices. Dr. Ann Kaiser at Vanderbilt University and Dr. Jean DesJardin at Moravian College are collaborating with Dr. Ambrose on this project.

  • Publications

    Selected Publications

    Ambrose, S. E., Fey, M. E., & Eisenberg, L.S. (2012). Phonological awareness and print knowledge of preschool children with cochlear implants. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 55(3), 811-823. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/11-0086) [LINK]

    VanDam, M., Ambrose, S.E., & Moeller, M. P. (2012). Quantity of parental language in the home environments of hard-of-hearing 2-year-olds. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17(4), 402-420. doi: 10.1093/deafed/ens025 [LINK]

    Ambrose, S. E., VanDam, M., & Moeller, M.P. (2014). Linguistic input, electronic media, and communication outcomes of toddlers with hearing loss. Ear and Hearing, 35(2), 139-147. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0b013e3182a76768 [LINK]

    Ambrose, S. E., Unflat-Berry, L., Walker, E. A., Harrison, M., Oleson, J., & Moeller, M. P. (2014). Speech sound production in 2-year-olds who are hard of hearing. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 23, 91-104. doi:10.1044/2014_AJSLP-13-0039 [LINK]

    Tomblin, J. B., Oleson, J., Ambrose, S. E., Walker, E. A., Moeller, M. P. (2014). The influence of hearing aids on speech and language development of children with hearing loss. JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, 140(5), 403-409. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2014.267 [LINK]

    VanDam, M., Oller, D. K., Ambrose, S. E., Gray, S., Richards, J. A., Xu, D., . . . Moeller, M. P. (2015). Automated vocal analysis of children with hearing loss and their typical and atypical peers. Ear and Hearing, 35(4), e146-e152. doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000138 [LINK]

    Ambrose, S. E., Walker, B., Unflat-Berry, L. M., Olsen, J., & Moeller, M. P. (2015). Quantity and quality of caregivers' linguistic input to 18-month and 3-year-old children who are hard of hearing. Ear and Hearing, 36(Suppl 1), 48-59.  doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000209 [LINK]

    Tomblin, J. B.,  Harrison, M., Ambrose, S. E., Olseon, J., Walker, E., & Moeller, M. P. (2015). Language outcomes in young children with mild to severe hearing loss. Ear and Hearing, 36(Suppl 1), 76-91. doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000219 [LINK]

    DesJardin, J., & Ambrose, S. E. (2016). Policy bulletin: Strategies for success during the preschool years. [eBulletin] Raising and Educating Deaf Children: Foundations for Policy, Practice, and Outcomes. Retrieved from [LINK]

    Ambrose, S. E., Thomas, A., & Moeller, M. P. (2016). Assessing vocal development in infants and toddlers who are hard of hearing: A parent report tool. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 21(3), 237-248. doi:10.1093/deafed/en027 [OPEN ACCESS LINK]

    Ambrose, S. E. (In press). Gesture use in 14-month-old toddlers with hearing loss and their mothers' responses. American Journal of Speech-Language-Pathology.


    Additional Publications

    Additional publications by Dr. Ambrose can be found in her PubMed bibliography.

  • Our Team

    Principal Investigator

    Sophie E. Ambrose, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is the director of the Communication Development Lab. Dr. Ambrose completed her Ph.D. in communication disorders at the University of Kansas and her postdoctoral training with Dr. Mary Pat Moeller at Boys Town National Research Hospital. Additionally, she spent four years at the House Ear Institute splitting her effort between serving as a speech-language specialist on the pediatric cochlear implant team and a research associate in Dr. Laurie Eisenberg's laboratory.

    Dr. Ambrose is currently the principal investigator on an NIH-NIDCD funded grant entitled "Contributions of Gesture to the Linguistic Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss" and directs a project entitled "Efficacy of an Early Intervention Addressing Needs of Children with Hearing Loss" that is funded through a Centers for Biomedical Research Excellence Grant from the NIH. She also serves as a co-investigator on another NIH-NIDCD funded grant awarded to Drs. Mary Pat Moeller and J. Bruce Tomblin entitled "Outcomes of School-Age Children who are Hard of Hearing."

    Dr. Ambrose's research efforts focus on identifying factors that contribute to the linguistic outcomes of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, including factors that are malleable through early intervention. This work includes examining the contributions of caregivers' communication styles to children's outcomes. Her long term goal is to develop evidence-based early intervention strategies to support parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing in optimizing their children's communication outcomes.

    Research Assistants

    Margo Appenzeller, Ph.D., CED, LSLS Cert. AVEd, is a Research Early Interventionist working in the Communication Development Lab. Dr. Appenzeller completed her Ph.D. in Specialized Education Services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prior to completing her doctoral degree, she worked as a teacher of children who are deaf or hard of hearing and as an early intervention provider for their families. After having worked in education for over 12 years, she returned to pursue her doctoral degree in order to expand her knowledge and understanding of families and provision of early intervention services. Through her work in the Communication Development Lab, she is able to combine her teaching experience with her interests in research to help both families who have children who are deaf or hard of hearing and the professionals who work with children and families.  

    Ashley O'Hara is currently a senior at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the speech-language pathology program. She enjoys working in the Communication Development Lab and seeing how mother and child interaction affects language outcomes. She loves working in the lab because she understands its potential to educate and empower caregivers.

  • For Parents

    What do we study?

    In the Communication Development Lab we study how young children who are deaf or hard of hearing learn language and how to best support their language learning. We are especially interested in learning about the things parents do to help their child learn language, including how they support their child's use of hearing aids or cochlear implants. 

    Why is this important?

    The goal of our research is to eventually develop better intervention services for young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. When families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing receive services to support their child's communication development, it is important that there is evidence indicating that the specific services will help the child and family achieve their goals. The research we do helps to build this evidence by deciding which techniques are and aren't likely to be helpful.

    What would my child and I do if we decide to participate?

    We have several different studies happening and participation in each one is slightly different. Here are a few things you or your child might be asked to do in a study.

    • Answer questions about your child's audiological history and language development.
    • Be interviewed about your experiences with helping your child wear his or her hearing aids or cochlear implants.
    • Play with your child in our family-friendly playroom while we video record your interaction to learn about how you and your child communicate with each other.
    • Work with an experienced professional to develop strategies for supporting your child's language development.

    Where do the studies happen?

    The Communication Development Lab is located in the Lied Learning and Technology Center at Boys Town National Research Hospital, a separate child-friendly facility adjacent to the Hospital building. The laboratory consists of a large playroom, designed to foster natural parent-child interaction, and an adjoining experimenter observation/analysis room. The observation lab consists of four remotely controlled professional HD IP dome cameras mounted on pan heads that can be controlled by remote from the observation room. The laboratory has professional audio setup, including two lavaliere microphones that can be worn by research participants, and push-to-talk capability that lets the research staff speak to research participants remotely using a speaker or wireless earpiece. The lab also makes use of a variety of other technology and software, including Language Environment Analysis (LENA) technology for collecting and analyzing full-day recordings of children's auditory environments, Noldus Observer XT software for coding and analyzing behavioral data, and Computerized Language Analysis (CLAN) for language transcription and analysis.

    What else should I know about participating?

    1. We always do our best to schedule visits when it is most convenient for your family.
    2. We understand that you are volunteering your time and we will always be respectful of that, including reimbursing you for the time you spend with us.
    3. The first time we meet with you, we'll explain the study you are considering being a part of and answer all your questions. We'll give you a written description of the study. If you decide you want to participate, you'll sign that document and we'll give you a copy.
    4. If you ever want to stop participating in the study, you can do that with no ​consequences for you or your family.
    5. We design our activities to make sure they are fun for your child and typically end with picking a book or toy from our "treasure chest."
    6. We keep all your information confidential and will never share information without your permission.
    7. On an individual or family level, participating in research studies with your child can be fun and informative for you. You may receive information about how your child is growing and developing, their strengths and weaknesses, and resources that may benefit you or your child. You can also share this information with professionals working with your child.

    How do I sign up?

    If you are interested in signing up to be contacted about research opportunities that become available for you or your children, please fill out our Research Participation Form.  

    Directions and Parking

    From 30th street, you will see a sign with an arrow directing you toward Boys Town Patient and Visitor Parking on Cass Street. Turn east at that sign and follow the road under the walkway and take your first right into a parking lot. That lot is directly in front of our building, the Lied Learning and Technology Center. Park and come inside to the front desk and let them know you are here to visit the Language Development Lab. We’ll be called and will come down promptly to meet you!

    Driving ​Directions PDF

    The Lied Learning and Technology Center at
    Boys Town National Research Hospital
    425 North 30th Street
    Omaha, NE 68131
    (531) 355-5000