Infancy Studies Laboratory
at Rutgers University
 






Office:   CMBN, Rutgers University

             197 University Avenue

              Newark, NJ 07102


Phone:  (973) 353-3598

Fax:       (973) 353-1760

Email:    benasich@andromeda.rutgers.edu


My Website:   April A. Benasich

April A. Benasich, Ph.D.

Dr. Benasich is the Elizabeth H. Solomon Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. She is also the Director of the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN), the Director of the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research, and a Principal Investigator within the NSF-funded Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center headquartered at the University of California, San Diego.


Dr. Benasich received her Ph.D.s from New York University in Experimental/Cog Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology (1987). Postdoctoral work was completed at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, Baltimore, MD as a member of the Research Steering Committee of the Infant Health and Development Program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A second postdoctoral fellowship was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Paula Tallal at the CMBN where her research on the speed of information processing in the visual system and the contribution of intermodal and cross-modal processing to early cognitive development broadened to include rapid auditory processing  profiles in young infants.


Dr. Benasich's current research, at the CMBN, focuses on the study of early neural processes necessary for normal cognitive and language development as well as the impact of disordered processing on infant neurocognitive status in high risk (e.g. family history of language-based learning impairments; very low birth-weight preterms) or neurologically impaired infants. All of the prospective, longitudinal research is conducted on infants from 2 through 84 months.

 

Specifically, she has been studying development of temporally-bounded sensory information processing (shown to be a major predictor of language impairment and dyslexia in older children), the neural substrates that support these developing abilities and the relations seen with emerging language and cognitive abilities from infancy through early childhood. Examination of auditory evoked potentials (EEG/ERPs) and naturally sleeping MRI/fMRI provide converging noninvasive physiological measures to her lab’s extensive behavioral battery. Generation of age-appropriate developmental brain templates from data gathered from naturally sleeping infants facilitate accurate source localization of both event-related potentials and fMRI. In addition, Dr. Benasich has developed an early assessment battery (including both behavioral and electrophysiological measures), based on previous work in her lab, that allows evaluation of early cognitive and language development in nonverbal, motor-impaired children with early (or genetic) brain insult.  


Ongoing studies include those examining cognitive and language processing abilities of children with autism who are non-verbal or minimally verbal as well as an early intervention study examining the effects of increased experience in discriminating different brief or rapidly successive sounds early in life on brain organization, and how such early experience might optimize later language development.  Fine-grained analysis of infant brain waves (EEG) as they process these critical timing cues provides information regarding how and in which parts of the brain auditory mapping is occurring. Another initiative involves examining brain oscillations within the child’s ERP. Oscillations capture how brain cells within and across brain areas are talking to and cooperating with each other. Data is now being gathered on an infant behavioral intervention developed to gently guide the developing brain to set up more efficient pathways for mounting language.

 

Her findings are groundbreaking, as she has demonstrated for the first time that the ability to perform fine non-speech acoustic discriminations in early infancy is critically important to and highly predictive of later language development in normally developing children as well as children at risk for language disorders. These data further suggest that measures of rapid auditory processing ability may be used to identify and importantly, remediate infants at highest risk of language delay and impairment regardless of risk status.

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