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Summer 2017 Talk

Adriana Weisleder, Ph.D.

Department of Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine

Tuesday, August 8 @ 12:30pm
Applied Physics & Math Building, room 5420

Understanding Poverty-Related Disparities in Language Development: Mechanisms and Intervention

While much research has documented disparities in language development between children from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds, many questions remain about what underlies these disparities at a mechanistic level. Using a multi-method approach (eye-tracking experiments, naturalistic observation, real-world intervention), my research seeks to understand how early experiences support the development of learning mechanisms that facilitate language growth. I will present evidence suggesting that opportunities for rich verbal interaction sharpen language-processing skills that facilitate word learning, and hence contribute to vocabulary development. I will then present evidence on the causal role of early parent-child interactions through studies of intervention, showing that enhancements in parents’ verbal responsiveness lead to improvements in socio-cognitive skills associated with communicative development. Finally, I will present work on the implementation of interventions in different contexts and with diverse populations, and discuss implications of this research for public health strategies seeking to reduce disparities in child development.


Dr. Weisleder is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and the Project Director of the Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy and Education Success at New York University. The goal of her research is to understand how children’s early environments support the development of language and communication, and to use this knowledge both to illuminate and to address disparities in child development. Experimental research has revealed powerful mechanisms that children bring to the task of learning language, including speech perception, statistical learning, and social and attentional biases. At the same time, studies using observational methods have explored trajectories of language development in diverse groups of children, revealing stunning variability in early environments that are predictive of differences in language growth. Dr. Weisleder's research brings together these two traditions, applying sophisticated infant assessment techniques and extensive naturalistic observation to discover how early experience shapes the skills that enable children to learn most effectively from their environments. Importantly, she uses this approach to address fundamental basic-research questions about child development, as well as to evaluate impacts of interventions that target disparities in real-world contexts. This multidisciplinary research program seeks to bring developmental science into the public health sphere by uncovering key influences on development and using this knowledge to design theoretically-grounded interventions for preventing language delays in at-risk children.