Academic Year 2017-2018

Dr. April Benasich

Impacting early acoustic mapping in infants: Translational strategies can alter the course of language learning disorders.

Ongoing research in my laboratory provides evidence that the ability to perform fine-grained acoustic analysis in the tens-of-millisecond range during infancy appears to be one of the most powerful and significant predictors of subsequent language development and disorders. Our prospective, longitudinal research has shown that non-linguistic, spectrotemporally modulated, rapid auditory processing (RAP) skills in the first year of life can serve as a behavioral "marker" of developmental language impairments and thus are of particular utility in the early identification and proactive remediation of such disorders. In this talk a brief summary will be given of studies that demonstrate that difficulties in discriminating rapidly successive sensory events early in infancy are predictive of later language outcome. The main focus will be on findings from our baby-friendly, non-invasive behavioral intervention that specifically impacts acoustic mapping. These results demonstrate that interactive exposure to specific classes of non-linguistic, temporally-modulated sounds in early infancy engages ongoing experience-dependent processes, supporting development of more efficient, fine-grained auditory processing skills -- thus optimizing acoustic mapping and automatic processing well before expressive language emerges. Moreover active training with non-speech stimuli translates to improved processing of speech. Next steps include facilitating active technology transfer of such interactive techniques with the goal of providing “real-world” intervention solutions at the earliest stages of development.

Biography

Dr. April A. Benasich is the Elizabeth H. Solomon Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers University. She also directs the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN), and the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research.  Dr. Benasich is principal investigator within the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center of the National Science Foundation at the Institute for Neural Computation, University of California in San Diego.

Her academic career started at New York University where she obtained her Ph.D. in Experimental/Cognitive Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology. She carried our research as a postdoctoral fellow at John Hopkins University Medical School as a member of the Research Steering Committee of the Infant Health and Development Program, and at the CMBN with Dr. Paula Tallal.

Dr. Benasich work is focused on the brain development in infancy and early childhood related to language and cognitive development. She has studied the neural processes involved in normal cognitive and language development as well as the impact of disordered processing in high risk or neurologically impaired infants. Of relevance, is her pioneering work linking deficits in rapid auditory processing in infants to later impairments in language and cognition.

Currently, on the one hand her work is examining cognitive and language processing abilities in children with autism who are non-verbal or minimally verbal and, on the other hand, she is testing the effect of training infants in discriminating brief successive sounds on brain organization with the hope that it may optimize later language development.

Her work has attracted the attention of the media and was featured on a PBS special "The New Science of Learning: Brain Fitness for Kids” as well as on Scientific American, “How to build a better learner”.

Where: Merrill Learning Center (Library) B111
When: Thursday, February 22, 2018
Time: 4:00-5:30 p.m.