Ian DeAndrea-Lazarus, M.D. and Ph.D. candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program, was awarded the distinguished Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health Related Research (F31) from the National Center for Deafness and Communication Disorders.
This fellowship will support DeAndrea-Lazarus’ research using electroencephalography (EEG) that compares the effect that deafness and early access to sign language has on visuospatial attention in people who are deaf. Specifically, how the brains of deaf native signers, or people born to deaf parents and who acquired American Sign Language as their first language, suppress irrelevant stimuli in their peripheral visual field – or distinguish between significant and insignificant information – when compared to hearing people who did not learn to sign.
DeAndrea-Lazarus believes this could identify the effects of deafness and language deprivation – limited exposure to early language – in children who are deaf that can cause cognitive, academic, behavioral, and socio-emotional deficits. Previous studies have reported attentional deficits in deaf people, but they did not consider the effect of delayed sign language acquisition in this population.
“We're becoming more aware of the effects of language deprivation, particularly in the context of technological advancements like cochlear implants. The technology has improved significantly over the years, but that can lead to a lot of misconceptions such as the idea that access to sound via cochlear implants alone is sufficient to fully acquire language,” DeAndrea-Lazarus, who has an implant himself, said. “It has been shown that there is so much variation in language outcomes, even in those who were implanted as early as the age of one.”
As a scholar who is deaf, DeAndrea-Lazarus has been using social media as a tool to show how young children can learn to sign. Video clips of him and his young son signing have gone viral with hundreds of thousands of views, providing a glimpse into his personal life that he hopes inspires will inspire others to teach children sign language, regardless of whether they are hearing or deaf. “We can communicate at an earlier age than at which our vocal cords develop, so this can have an impact on hearing kids as well.”
Originally published in NEUROSCIENCE Volume 5.