BU Wheelock Receives NIH Grant to Support Dr. Lauren Berger and Study of Deaf Children’s Language Acquisition

BU Wheelock’s Deaf Studies program has received a Diversity Supplement grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to support the hire of a Deaf postdoctoral researcher for a two-year term. Dr. Lauren Berger will work with Dr. Naomi Caselli to investigate how parent American Sign Language (ASL) proficiency supports Deaf children’s ASL acquisition.

The team is also interested in documenting the effects of learning a first language from parents who are hearing and learn ASL alongside their children. Their findings will inform understandings of how the variation in parent ASL fluency might affect language acquisition and provide empirical evidence to support deaf children in acquiring a first language.

“Most Deaf children in America are born to hearing parents who often do not already know ASL,” explains Dr. Berger, who recently earned a doctorate in Educational Neuroscience from Gallaudet University. “The goal is to identify how hearing parents, as new ASL learners, can promote healthy ASL acquisition in their children.”

Dr. Berger began working in sign language research as an undergraduate at Rochester Institute of Technology. As a doctoral student at Gallaudet, she was awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellowship to study the neural underpinnings of ProTactile ASL, an emerging language DeafBlind people in the US have naturally developed over the past decade.

She will join BU Wheelock’s LexLab, which is directed by Dr. Caselli. “I am really excited to have Lauren join the lab,” says Dr. Caselli.  “Her previous work on DeafBlind language processing shows the power of the human mind to create and understand language in all modalities, and I am thrilled to be able to collaborate with her.”

The NIH Diversity Supplement grants are awarded to increase diversity in the research workforce by providing training, mentorship, and career development to individuals who are underrepresented in biomedical, behavioral, clinical, social, and basic science research.