Amy M. Lieberman

Director, Doctoral Studies
Associate Professor

photo of Amy Lieberman

Dr. Amy Lieberman is an associate professor at BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and director of doctoral Studies. She is also the director of the Language Acquisition and Visual Attention Lab. Her work focuses on the acquisition and processing of American Sign Language (ASL) in deaf individuals and the development of visual attention in deaf children. Her research employs multiple approaches to studying language and attention, ranging from naturalistic observations of parent-child interactions to the development of a novel eye-tracking paradigm to investigate real-time processing of ASL in deaf children and adults.

Prior to joining BU, Dr. Lieberman was a research scientist at the Center for Research on Language and the Mayberry Lab for Multimodal Language Development at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, she worked as an early childhood teacher at the California School for the Deaf, Fremont, and at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School at Gallaudet University’s Clerc Center.

  • BU Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Sargent College
  • Affiliated faculty, BU Linguistics Department
  • Early Childhood Task Force, Massachusetts Commission of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Steering Committee, Massachusetts Commission of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Boston University Conference on Language Development (faculty advisor)

PhD, Special Education, University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University

MA, Education (Cognition and Development), University of California, Berkeley

BA, Human Biology, Stanford University

DE575: ASL Development in Deaf Children

DE576: Bilingual ASL/English Development, Assessment, and Planning for Deaf Children

DE552: Seminar: Selected Topics in Deaf Studies

LS727: Topical Seminar in Literacy and Language

Children learn new words when they can connect the language they hear to the objects and events they see and touch in the surrounding world. For deaf children learning sign language, both language input and information about the world are perceived through the visual modality. This means that deaf children must learn to skillfully alternate their gaze between people and things. My research aims to understand how deaf children acquire the ability to alternate visual attention in a way that maximizes language learning. I also investigate how the amount and quality of parents’ language input impacts children’s sign language acquisition.

It is well established that deaf children without access to language from an early age are at-risk for delays in language, literacy, and other academic outcomes throughout their school years and beyond. Despite the recognized importance of early language acquisition as a foundation for later learning, little is known about how sign language is processed by deaf children, and how processing efficiency may affect the development of vocabulary and other linguistic skills. These issues are particularly important in light of the fact that the vast majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents and thus are not exposed to sign language from birth. My research aims to understand how sign language is acquired and processed both by typical learners and by those who acquire language under atypical circumstances. My work is funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (R01DC015272).

Read more about my research and the Language Acquisition and Visual Attention lab.

Current projects:

What does joint attention look like in interactions between deaf children and their parents?

Joint attention refers to moments within an interaction when children and their parent or caregiver are both attending to the same thing at the same time. In spoken language, joint attention occurs when parents and children are looking at an object, and parents label or talk about it. How does this multi-modal process adapt when all input (language and information about the world) is perceived visually? We examine interactions between deaf children and their deaf and hearing caregivers to see how joint visual attention is achieved. We do this by recording parents and children during naturalistic play, and then coding these interactions to understand how eye gaze, handling objects, and language input are coordinated.

How do deaf children learn new ASL signs?

Early childhood is a time of rapid word learning. How do children map new labels to new objects? We study the process of word learning in ASL. In particular, we investigate how deaf children learn to manage their eye gaze and visual attention so that they can connect language and objects. Our studies use eye-tracking technology, which allows us to monitor children’s gaze as they perceive signs, pictures, and videos on a computer. We also record parents and children interacting with novel objects to determine how new labels are introduced during naturalistic play.

How do we know if deaf children are reaching their language milestones?

Vocabulary development in young childhood is an important predictor of later language outcomes. Yet, few measures exist to track the development of ASL in very young children. With our collaborators Dr. Naomi Caselli and Dr. Jennie Pyers, we are developing measures of productive and receptive language for use with infants, toddlers, and children learning ASL.

How do adult ASL-signers process language?

We study ASL production, comprehension, and processing in deaf adults from a range of backgrounds. We are interested in how adults process ASL as they are perceiving signs; how ASL phonology and semantics influence comprehension; and how signers choose to express various concepts in ASL. We use a range of approaches, primarily eye-tracking, to understand adult ASL perception and processing.

Professional Development for Teachers of D/HH students

The education of multilingual students has become increasingly important and relevant given the changing demographics of American schools. For Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students, schools are increasingly recognizing the benefits of a bilingual or dual-language approach, in which students are instructed with the goal of achieving proficiency in both ASL and English. In collaboration with a large-scale project led by Dr. Kara Viesca at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, we are developing new workshops that will be designed specifically for teachers and other professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing students from a bilingual or dual language perspective. More information about this project is available at

Visit Dr. Lieberman's Faculty Profile
Visit the Language Acquisition and Visual Attention Lab's Website
Research Update: Dr. Naomi Caselli’s Team Extends Investigation into Language Deprivation in Deaf Children

Fitch, A., & Lieberman, A.M. (in-principle acceptance, Stage 1 Registered Report). Deaf children’s use of mutual exclusivity and eye gaze to determine word meanings in American Sign Language. Developmental Science.

Fitch, A., Arunachalam, S., & Lieberman, A.M. (in press). Mapping Word to World in ASL: Evidence from a Human Simulation Paradigm. Cognitive Science.

Lieberman, A.M., Fitch, A., & Borovsky, A. (2021). Flexible fast-mapping: deaf children flexibly allocate visual attention to learn novel words in American Sign Language. Developmental Science, 00, 1-15.

Caselli, N., Pyers, J., & Lieberman, A.M. (2021). Deaf children of hearing parents develop age-level vocabularies if exposed to ASL by six-months. Journal of Pediatrics, 232, 229-236.

Schotter, E., Johnson, E., & Lieberman, A.M. (2020). The sign superiority effect: Lexical status facilitates peripheral handshape identification for deaf signers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 46(11), 1397-1410.

Fieldsteel, Z., Bottoms, A., & Lieberman, A.M. (2020). Nouns and verbs in parent input in American Sign Language during interaction among deaf dyads. Language Learning and Development, 16(4), 351-363.

Lieberman, A.M., & Borovsky, A (2020). Lexical recognition in deaf children learning ASL: activation of semantic and phonological features of signs. Language Learning, 70(4), 935-973.

Rosenburg, P., Lieberman, A.M., Caselli, N., & Hoffmeister, R. (2020). The Development and Evaluation of a New ASL Comprehension Task. Frontiers in Communication: Language Sciences, 5, 25.

Caselli, N., Lieberman, A.M., & Pyers, J. (2020). The ASL-CDI 2.0: An updated, normed adaptation of the MacArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventory for American Sign Language. Behavior Research Methods, 52, 2071-2084.

Fitch, A., Lieberman, A.M., Luyster, R., & Arunachalam , S. (2020). Toddlers’ word learning through overhearing: others’ attention matters. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 193, 104793.

Berger, L., Lieberman, A.M., Pyers, J., & Caselli, N. (2021, November). Non-native early ASL input from parents to deaf children acquiring ASL still supports ASL vocabulary growth. Paper to be presented at the 46th Boston University Conference on Language Development (virtual)

Leary, J., Gappmayr, P., & Lieberman, A.M. (2021, November). Pointing in parent input during interactions with deaf children in American Sign Language. Poster to be presented at the 46th Boston University Conference on Language Development (virtual).

Pontecorvo, E., Higgins, M., Mora, J., Lieberman, A.M., Pyers, J., & Caselli, N. (2021, November). Early sign language exposure does not prevent acquisition of spoken language. Poster to be presented at the 46th Boston University Conference on Language Development (virtual).

Gappmayr, P., Lieberman, A.M., & Caselli, N. (2021, August). The relationship between ASL sign duration and iconicity in child-directed signing. Poster presented at the 6th Lancaster Conference on Infant and Early Child Development (virtual).

Lieberman, A.M., & Schotter, E. (2021, July). Understanding the sources of enhanced reading spans in deaf signers. Presentation given as part of the symposium, “Reading and visual recognition skills in deaf and hard-of-hearing signers” at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (virtual).

Lieberman, A.M., Fitch, A. & Gagne, D. (2021, July). The social dynamics of joint attention in American Sign Language interactions. Talk presented at the International Association for the Study of Child Language, (virtual).

Lieberman A. (2020). American Sign Language in the visual world: Linguistic processing among deaf adults and children. Invited talk at the Center for Language and Brain, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. (virtual)

Lieberman, A., & Caselli, N. (2020). ASL vocabulary development and assessment in young deaf children. Workshop presented at the MA DESE Early Childhood Institute, Center for Research and Training, The Learning Center for the Deaf, Framingham, MA (virtual).

Lieberman, A. (2019). Supporting the Visual Attention of Young Deaf Children. Talk presented to the Coalition of Private Schools for the Deaf, American School for the Deaf, Salisbury, CT.

Lieberman, A. M. (2018). Learning Language in the Visual World: How Interaction Shapes Early Word Learning in Young Deaf Children. Presented at the Chicago Education Workshop Lecture Series, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

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