Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Communication Disorders 42:4 (July-August 2009), pp. 245–247; ASHA 2008 Research Symposium: Neurobiological Determinants of Human Communication: Prematurity and Early Childhood; doi: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2009.03.006 Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.


Neurobiological studies of the mammalian brain in health and disease have contributed greatly towards an improved understanding of the maturation-dependent vulnerability of the late preterm brain, the plasticity of the immature nervous system, and the evolution of specialized mechanisms for a communication or ‘language-ready’ neural substrate. Advances in developmental neurobiology have important implications for speech-language pathologists and audiologists working with neonates who, by virtue of their prematurity, are at risk for developmental disabilities. The extra-uterine environment during this critical period (24–40 weeks gestation) in brain development has a profound and long lasting impact on the premature infant. Prior barriers to research on very young children and infants have recently been overcome with the development of non-invasive techniques for neuroimaging and recording biological events. Researchers from a variety of disciplines are now using these techniques to derive knowledge about early communication development, and to evaluate the efficacy of treatments designed to facilitate early communication and feeding development. The 18th annual research symposium, co-sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH-NIDCD), was convened on November 21st, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The title of this day-long symposium was Neurobiological Determinants of Communication Development, with a special focus on prematurity, developing brain, plasticity, early childhood, and neurodevelopmental outcome. This meeting provided ASHA attendees with a showcase of innovative methods for early detection of brain and behavioral anomalies in the premature infant, introduced translational research on mechanisms of plasticity to improve auditory function, and considered evidence on the specialized nature of mirror neuron brain systems to support the acquisition of language. This symposium featured four internationally recognized scholars including Amit Mathur, MD (Washington University), Ira Adams-Chapman, MD (Emory University), Michael Arbib, PhD (University of Southern California), and Anu Sharma, PhD (University of Colorado). The symposium also included a special session that featured the work of the following four early-career scientists whose research focuses on neurobiologic aspects of communication development: Meredith Estep, ABD (University of Kansas), Ignatius Nip, PhD (San Diego State University), Jayanthi Sasisekaran, PhD (University of Minnesota), and Ronald LeBel, ABD (University of Colorado).