Developmental Neuroplasticity and Timing of First Language Exposure in Infants
This research project seeks to understand the mechanisms that underlie learning (i.e. language acquisition) in the developing brain in order to improve understanding of typical and atypical cognition. Much controversy exists in both science and speech, language, and hearing professionals regarding the optimal age (if at all) to expose young children to a visual signed language. This study promises to have high impact to broader society as our understanding from this study will ameliorate barriers to the successful use of hearing enhancement technologies by identifying optimal developmental timing of language exposure in conjunction with cochlear implantation. We utilize functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and behavioral techniques that are compatible with young children and particularly recipients of cochlear implants to capture the modulation of the language neural networks as a function of different language exposure experiences. Congenitally deaf infants with cochlear implants provide scientists with an extraordinary natural experiment in which exposure to auditory-based and visual-based language permits investigation into controlled timing of linguistic exposure. Thus, in this first-time targeted study of brain tissue development in young cochlear implanted infants, we will better understand the neural network that underlies language acquisition and processing in terms of its neurobiological maturational sensitivity as well its neuroplasticity and resilience to modality of language.