The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is a leader in innovative research related to language, hearing, speech, and swallowing. The work of our faculty covers the spectrum of basic science, translational research, clinical research, and intervention studies. Our faculty engage in multi-disciplinary research addressing a wide range of topics, including animal models of speech and swallowing; speech motor control in normal and disordered humans; language development and disorders associated with genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome; language development in children with autism; cochlear implants and binaural hearing; bilingual language development; speech and language development in children with cerebral palsy.
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Sriram Boothalingam, Ph.D., FAAA | Efferent Systems Laboratory
Dr. Boothalingam is an audiologist and a researcher. His research is geared towards understanding the functional relevance of the auditory brain’s feedback systems, called efferents, in both adults and children. He uses non-invasive tools such as otoacoustic emissions (OAEs; sounds generated by healthy ears) and electroencephalography (EEG) to measure efferent activity in the auditory system. In addition, he is also interested in developing clinical tools to objectively evaluate both the auditory afferent and efferent systems.
Michelle Ciucci, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Ciucci Laboratory
Michelle Ciucci’s research focuses on the neurobiological and behavioral underpinnings of motor control for voice and swallowing. Using clinical and basic science models, she explores how degenerative neurologic diseases, such as Parkinson Disease, affect these functions. This work may lead to new interventions to relieve the symptoms of PD, and potentially modify the progression of the disease.
Nadine Connor, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Connor Laboratory
Nadine Connor’s research focuses on the role of aging, and on treatments such as exercise, in reversing or preventing age-related changes in cranial muscles. Real-world benefit comes from better knowledge of how currently used treatments may affect swallowing and voice disorder outcomes.
Viji Easwar, Ph.D., M.SC. | Child Hearing Lab
Susan Ellis-Weismer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Language Processes Laboratory
Susan Ellis-Weismer’s research investigates the developmental course and nature of language processing in atypical language learners compared to those with typical language development. Her work focuses on late talkers, children with specific language impairment (SLI), and young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Susan Ellis-Weismer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Little Listeners Laboratory
With principal investigators Susan Ellis-Weismer, Jan Edwards, and Jenny Saffran, learning language is one of the most fascinating things children do during their early years. From day one, children are Little Listeners who use the words they hear from family and friends to help them accomplish the amazing task of learning language. Even though most children pick up language with relative ease, some kids, including those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), struggle to understand and develop language. The goal of the Little Listeners Project is to better understand why some children with ASD have such a difficult time learning language, and what we might be able to do to help.
Cynthia Fowler, Ph.D., CCC-A | Fowler Research Group
Dr. Fowler’s research addresses the causes and mechanisms of hearing loss in aging and age-related diseases, including dementia and diabetes. In diabetes, Professor Fowler’s data suggest that accompanying hearing loss actually begins in the pre-diabetic stages, indicating that earlier treatment should be a focus.
Katie Hustad, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Wisconsin Intelligibility, Speech, and Communication Laboratory
Dr. Hustad’s research studies the changes in speech language, cognition, and functional communication abilities among children with cerebral palsy (CP). By better understanding the different profiles of communication development among children with CP—and the stability of these profiles over time—Dr. Hustad will then work to develop interventions to improve communication outcomes, quality of life, and social participation for children with CP.
Margarita Kaushanskaya, Ph.D. | Language Acquisition & Bilingualism Laboratory
Margarita Kaushanskaya’s research aims to improve diagnostic practices for children who speak English as a second language, and who therefore cannot be tested using tools developed for monolingual English-speaking children. Because early diagnosis of a language difficulty is key to successful intervention and to the child’s ultimate quality of life, identifying ways to accurately index bilingual children’s development can make a significant contribution to public health.
Ruth Litovsky, Ph.D. | Binaural Hearing & Speech Laboratory
Ruth Litovsky’s research studies binaural hearing in persons who have normal hearing and in persons who are deaf and use cochlear implants (CIs). Her team is interested in whether CI users can benefit from having two (bilateral) CIs and whether, for children, having bilateral CIs at a young age offers unique advantages.
Kimberly Mueller, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Cognitive-Communication in Aging and Neurogenic Disorders Laboratory
Dr. Mueller’s research focuses on neural mechanisms of speech/language in individuals with normal aging, preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and other forms of dementia. Her work explores naturalistic speech-language samples as a means of gaining insight from subtle changes to communication in the context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Mueller is also interested in testing of identification methods of early cognitive change in the presence of AD biomarkers, and creation of multimodal therapeutic interventions to address cognitive-communication difficulties in MCI and dementia due to neurodegenerative disease.
Caroline Niziolek, Ph.D. | Brain, Language, & Acoustic Behavior Laboratory
Benjamin Parrell, Ph.D. | Speech Motor Action + Control Laboratory
Dr. Parrell’s research focuses on how the brain controls and produces the articulatory movements that create speech. This research incorporates speech behavior, neuroscience, and computational modelling to understand how speech motor control works in healthy speakers as well as speakers with neurological disorders, such as cerebellar ataxia. Students interested in working in the lab can apply online.
Nicole Pulia, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Swallowing and Salivary Bioscience Laboratory
Dr. Nicole Rogus-Pulia leads a research program focused on dysphagia, or swallowing dysfunction, in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The goal of Dr. Rogus-Pulia’s work is to systematically identify and characterize factors underlying dysphagia in patients with AD and to translate these findings into treatments for maintaining quality of life and prevention of pneumonia onset for both veterans and the general population.
Audra Sterling, Ph.D. | Research in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Laboratory
Susan Thibeault, Ph.D., CCC-SLP | Thibeault Research Group
Dr. Thibeault’s translational research investigates molecular and genetic factors that are the basis of normal vocal fold tissue and its vibration. Dr. Thibeault studies vocal fold injury and wound healing as a disordered model. Specifically, Dr. Thibeault’s lab has two main areas of study — tissue engineering of the vocal fold lamina propria and laryngeal immunology. The lab has developed unique primary and immortalized human cell lines, in addition to vibrational bioreactors to aid in the research pursuit.
Participate in Research Studies
The Department has many active laboratories for training and research in speech, language, and hearing science as well as communication disorders. Contact the labs above to learn more.