Parental Gestures and Their Role During Social Interactions with Deaf, Autistic and Typically Developing Children



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The study aimed to understand how parental gestures are used and guide children’s attention by observing social interaction. The study specifically focused on parental gesture use and child’s gaze allocation of three population groups whose language learning experiences differ: Deaf (D), autistic (ASD), and typically developing (TD). Fifteen 3-5 year old children and their parents (5 parent-child dyads from three groups) participated in a semi-naturalistic play session. Video recordings of the play session were manually annotated to determine 1) the type, duration and frequency of parental gestures, 2) whether or not a parent used objects while gesturing, and 3) the child’s attention to social cues such as face, object use, and parental gestures. Results reveal that parents gestured differently for children with different language learning experiences. Specifically, parents of D group gestured faster and more frequently when compared to parents of ASD and TD groups, while parental gestures from all three groups were dominated by deictic gestures (e.g., pointing and object showing). Further, the results from children’s head-camera data suggest that deaf children attend to the parental gestures more and had more instances of sustained attention when compared to the ASD and TD groups. Sustained attention has been considered to be a developmental milestone for attentional development and effective attention for learning. Discussion includes the potential role of both individual child’s language learning experiences and parental gesture in cognitive development.