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Communication Development Lab


The research being conducted 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 hard of hearing. A clearer understanding of the early parent and child factors that positively contribute to later linguistic success will allow us to develop evidence-based early intervention approaches for this population.

Current Funding

The Communication Development Lab is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders entitled Contributions of Gesture to the Linguistic Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss (R03DC012647), awarded to Dr. Sophie Ambrose. The overarching goal of this research program is to elucidate the relationships between gesture and spoken language for children with hearing loss. For children with normal hearing, gesture use is predictive of later spoken language outcomes. Additionally, parental gesture use and parental responses to toddlers’ gestures support children’s linguistic outcomes. For children with hearing loss, the relationships between gesture and spoken language have been largely unexplored. An NIDCD working group identified the need for research on gesture development with this population. The aims of this longitudinal study are to 1) determine whether the gestural abilities of toddlers with hearing loss predict unique variance in their later spoken language abilities, 2) ascertain the effects of maternal gesture use on the linguistic outcomes of toddlers with hearing loss, and 3) establish the influence of maternal responsiveness to gesture on the spoken language outcomes of toddlers with hearing loss. This work will result in translational findings regarding the value of utilizing gesture abilities to identify toddlers with hearing loss who are most at-risk for difficulties with linguistic achievement. Findings will also have a significant impact on how we counsel parents regarding the communication strategies that will best support their children’s spoken language development.


The Communication Development Lab is located in the Lied Learning and Technology Center at Boys Town National Research Hospital. 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 remotely 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 via a speaker or wireless earpiece.

A PC in the observation room utilizes Media Recorder for recording up to four individual video files in full resolution or combining up to four data streams in one video file. The PC is also equipped with Noldus Observer® XT 11 software, which is an event logging software for the collection, analysis, and presentation of observational data. This PC, along with the second lab PC, is also equipped with a variety of software to support research efforts. The software includes Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT) and Child Language Analysis (CLAN) to support transcription of language samples and SPSS for statistical analysis. The PCs are also used for analysis of full–day audio recordings of children’s natural environments using LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis) devices and LENA Pro software. Recordings are collected using the LENA recorder, which is worn by children in a specially designed piece of clothing with a pocket on the child’s chest. Recordings are analyzed using LENA Pro, which is an integrated processing and display software package that enables research staff to collect, manage, and analyze recordings. LENA Pro reports include count and percentile data on speech-language measurements such as estimates of adult words spoken to and around the child wearing the LENA recorder, adult-child conversational interactions, and child vocalizations.

The Communication Development Lab also shares a second laboratory space with other research labs. This laboratory, which is in close proximity, houses a double-walled sound-attenuated booth suite for hearing assessments. A hearing-aid analysis/probe-microphone system (Audioscan Verifit) is available to quantify real-ear gain as a function of frequency on an individual basis.


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 as a speech-language specialist on the pediatric cochlear implant team and a research associate at the House Ear Institute.

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.” Additionally, she serves as 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 on both grants focus on identifying early predictors of later linguistic success for children with hearing loss. She is especially interested in the contributions of caregivers’ communication styles. Her long term goals are to develop evidence-based early intervention strategies to support parents of children with hearing loss in optimizing their children’s communication outcomes.

For Parents - What We Do and Why We Do It

In previous decades, children with hearing loss often weren’t identified until they were two or three years of age, or even older. Now that we have universal newborn hearing screening, we’re seeing infants and toddlers with hearing loss in clinical settings, but there is still a lot we don’t know about how their communication develops. Our lab is interested in two big picture questions. The first is “how can we identify which infants and toddlers with hearing loss are at the highest risk of language delays?” We’re specifically looking at children’s gesture use, because that may help us identify infants and toddlers who need extra support before they fall behind in spoken language development. The second question is “which parent communication styles best support spoken language development for these children?” We are interested in how mothers use gesture, speech, and sign to communicate with their children and also how mothers respond to their children’s communication attempts. We hope that this work will help us identify infants with hearing loss who are most at risk for language delays before they have fallen far behind and then also help us provide them and their parents with individualized intervention approaches to support strong language outcomes.

Learn more about our lab here.

Selected Publications

​Ambrose, S. E., Tomas, A., & Moeller, M.P. (2016) Assessment of the early vocal development of infants and toddlers who are hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Advance online publication. doi: doi:10.1093/deafed/enw027

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.

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, 76S–91S. doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000219

Ambrose, S. E., Walker, E. A.., 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, 48S–59S. doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000209

DesJardin, J., & Ambrose, S. E. (2015). Policy bulletin: Strategies for success during the preschool years. [eBulletin] Raising and Educating Deaf Children: Foundations for Policy, Practice, and Outcomes. Retrieved from /node/21312

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, 36(4), 146-152. doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000138

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

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

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

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

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)

​DesJardin, J. L., Ambrose, S. E., & Eisenberg, L. S. (2011). Maternal involvement in the home literacy environment: Supporting literacy skills in children with cochlear implants. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 32(3), 135-150. doi:10.1177 /1525740109340916