November 08, 2013
Friday, November 8, Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto’s Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2) was honored by a visit from Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa) and his staff. During the visit, we shared our latest findings of the neural underpinnings of bilingualism and signed languages, and about the vital importance of early visual language experience for deaf children. Sen. Harkin, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, has been dedicated to education and disabilities legislation throughout his tenure. His signature legislative achievement is The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed in 1991. Sen. Harkin, whose brother is deaf, was the first to give an address in American Sign Language on the floor of the U.S. Senate. In our tour, we shared BL2’s novel research findings, including studies conducted with fNIRS, which has made possible the neuroimaging of babies, children, and people with cochlear implants. Of particular interest to the Senator was the finding that early sign language promotes typical language development and normal language processing in the brain, while later sign language exposure resulted in atypical language processing, which in turn has a profound impact on brain processing, language learning, and reading.
Photo from left to right: Senator Harkin and Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, PEN students Geo Kartheiser and Adam Stone explain the importance of visual sign phonology in reading for deaf children, PEN student Adam Stone introduces himself to Senator Harkin, Senator Harkin signs the BL2 guestbook.