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Jan Edwards, PhD

Principal Investigator

Professor Jan Edwards’ research aims to better understand phonological development - the process of learning to talk - in young children with typical and atypical language development. Although most adults take the ability to speak for granted, children who are learning language must actually acquire and synthesize a complex system of sounds, words, and social understanding. Doing so competently supports future language development, reading ability, and academic achievement. To learn more about Professor Edwards' research, visit her Learning to Talk website!

Susan Ellis Weismer, PhD, CCC-SLP

Principal Investigator

Professor Susan Ellis Weismer investigates the developmental course and nature of language processing in atypical language learners compared to those with typical language development. Populations of interest include late talkers, children with specific language impairment, and young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). One line of research is focused on examining linguistic processing abilities of toddlers with late onset of language development compared to those with typical patterns of language acquisition. Another area of research is directed at studying language development patterns in young children with ASD. To learn more about Professor Ellis Weismer's research, visit her Language Processes Lab website!

Jenny Saffran, PhD

Principal Investigator

How do children acquire their native language? Professor Jenny Saffran’s research focuses on the kinds of learning abilities required to master the complexities of language. Three broad issues characterize her work. One line of research asks what kinds of learning emerge in infancy. A second line of research probes the biases that shape human learning abilities, and the relationship between these biases and the structure of human languages. A third issue concerns the extent to which the learning abilities underlying this process are specifically tailored for language acquisition. To learn more about Professor Saffran's research, visit her Infant Learning Lab website!

Courtney Venker, PhD, CCC-SLP

Assistant Professor

Courtney Venker is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, and she received her PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University but continues to be involved  with the Little Listeners Project. Her research broadly focuses on language development in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with a specific focus on word-learning mechanisms. She is also interested in how atypical visual attention in children with ASD affects their language processing and language learning. She has a passion for scientific writing and enjoys reading about, talking about, and teaching about this topic. 

Heidi Sindberg, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Heidi is a clinical speech-language pathologist who joined Dr. Ellis Weismer's Language Processes Lab in 2008, having worked before at the Waisman Center in both research and clinical positions. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has provided clinical services to many children, adolescents and adults throughout her career. Heidi has a special interest in working with individuals who are on the autism spectrum as well as with people who use augmentative and alternative communication systems (methods to supplement or replace speech for individuals who have difficulty communicating with their own voice). 

Jessica Umhoefer, PsyD, NCSP

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Jessica joined Dr. Ellis Weismer's lab in 2014 after working in various medical, school, and clinical settings around the country focusing on children and families dealing with developmental and emotional disabilities. Her background includes both research and clinical experiences with a variety of populations. She received her master's in Educational Psychology-School Psychology from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities and her doctorate degree in Combined School and Clinical Psychology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Jessica is involved in conducting diagnostic evaluations and psychological testing for the Little Listeners Project. She has a special interest in evaluating and working with children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities that can result in behavioral challenges. 

Tristan Mahr, MS

Graduate Student

Tristan is a graduate student in the MS/PhD program for Speech-Language Pathology working with Dr. Edwards. His research interests involve the computational aspects of phonological acquisition and the development of phonological abstractions. He is the lab's resident R hacker and data wrangler. 

Janine Mathee, BS

Graduate Student

Janine is a graduate student in the MS/PhD program in Speech-Language Pathology working with Dr. Ellis Weismer. Janine first became interested in developmental and cognitive research through working in Dr. Saffran's Infant Learning Lab, where she completed a senior thesis project investigating the effects of visual salience on infants' lexical processing. Her research interests are centered around what mechanisms drive the vast differences in language outcomes observed among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and how these mechanisms can be applied clinically in order to facilitate language growth for children with ASD. Janine is passionate about "bridging the gap" between research and clinical work.

Kim Phillips, BS

Graduate Research Assistant

Kim completed her Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in May 2017. She has a passion for working with children, which she has explored through experiences as a nanny, dance teacher, and respite care provider for children of differing ages and abilities. She continues to expand her knowledge about autism and language development through participating in the Little Listeners Project. She is currently a gradute student studying speech-language pathology, with the goal of working with children in a clinical setting.

Madison Blair, Undergraduate Student

Research Assistant

Madison is currently in her last year in the Communication Sciences and Disorders undergraduate program. She loves working with kids and has pursued this interest working as a camp counselor, nanny, and behavioral line therapist for children with autism. She is excited to be joining the lab to learn more about the effects of ASD on children's language development. After graduation, she plans on going to graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist in a school setting.  

Julia Cohen, Undergraduate Student

Research Assistant

Julia is currently a senior in the Communication Sciences and Disorders undergraduate program. From being a camp counselor, tutoring, and volunteering with children who have autism spectrum disorders, she has developed a passion for working with children. She is excited to have the opportunity to learn more about language development and autism spectrum disorders through her experiences in the Little Listeners Project. After graduating, she plans on attending graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist and ultimately work with young children. 

Emily Hines, Undergraduate Student

Research Assistant

Emily is currently a sophomore planning to declare her major as Communication Sciences and Disorders. Working with children is an activity that Emily is very passionate about. She has worked in a YMCA nursery, a summer day camp, and has taught swim lessons. As she spends time in the lab, she is excited to learn more about how autism affects language development in children. After graduating, she plans to go to graduate school to pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist in either a school or children's hospital. 

Lauren Lustek, Undergraduate Student

Research Assistant

Lauren is currently a senior in the Communication Sciences & Disorders undergraduate program. She loves working with kids and has been a summer camp counselor, nanny and tutor. Her freshman year she took a class that discussed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in depth, which sparked her interest in participating in the Little Listeners Project. Through the project she is eager to learn more about how ASD affects language development in children. After graduating, she plans on going to graduate school and becoming a speech-language pathologist in a school setting.

Cassandra Peters, Undergraduate Student

Research Assistant

Cassandra is currently in her final year of her undergraduate studies of Communication Sciences and Disorder. Following graduation she hopes to attend graduate school to become a speech and language pathologist. Her current hope is to someday practice as a medical speech and language pathologist. She is eager to combine her past experiences and interests with the new exposures and insights she will gain during her time with Little Listeners. She loves the field and has sought to diversify her experiences through volunteering and working with elderly individuals to newborns in a variety of settings.

Rachel Alter, BA

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Rachel received a Bachelor's Degree in Human Development and Family Studies in December 2016. She has applied her passion for learning about child development and working with children of varying ages and developmental levels by working at summer camps for kids, as a nanny, and through multiple research positions. She was excited to further her understanding of child development by studying language acquisition in children who have autism spectrum disorders in this lab. She plans to attend graduate school and work in the social services field with kids of all ages.

Kaela Bader, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Kaela recevied her Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences & Disorders and Spanish in May 2017. As the sister of someone with autism, Kaela was excited to be a part of the Little Listeners Project and expand her knowledge of language development and autism spectrum disorder. She is passionate about language and working with children, having volunteered at a pediatric speech clinic and with elementary and preschool programs. She is now pursuing a Master’s degree in speech-language pathology in hopes of working in a pediatric clinical setting. 

Tessa Balsiger, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Tessa graduated from the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CS&D) program in May 2017. She loves working with kids and has been a nanny, dance teacher, and camp leader. After learning about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in college courses, she was excited to further her knowledge of how ASD affects language development in children. After completing her CS&D degree, she began graduate school with the goal to become a speech-language pathologist in a school setting. 

Emily Dressler, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Emily received her bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from UW-Madison in December 2015. During her time at UW, she worked as a research assistant for the Little Listeners Project. After the Little Listeners Project Emily went on to attend graduate school in the Speech-Language Pathology program at Marquette University. The Little Listeners Project was a great learning experience for her future career as a speech-language pathologist!

Lizzy Elkin, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Lizzy graduated from UW-Madison in May 2015 and received her bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. As an undergraduate, she worked as a research assistant for the Little Listeners Project. She loves working with children and was thrilled to have the opportunity to assist with research which focuses on the complexities of language development. Lizzy went on to attend graduate school for speech-language pathology at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, with the goal of working in a children’s hospital.

Eileen Haebig, PhD, CCC-SLP

Former Graduate Student

Eileen received her PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders in May 2015, studying under Dr. Ellis Weismer and Dr. Saffran. As a clinical researcher and certified speech-language pathologist, she is interested in language learning in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. She studies language abilities in children with fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and specific language impairment. Her dissertation focused on how children with autism and children with language impairment without autism learn words. Eileen is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University in the Neural Systems for Language Processing Lab where she explores how children with atypical development process language through behavioral and neural responses.

Amanda Izen, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Amanda received her degree in the Communication Sciences & Disorders undergraduate program in May 2017. After working in a school with children who have autism spectrum disorder, her love of children and language was confirmed. She enjoyed continuing to explore her passions even further through the opportunity the Little Listeners Project provided. She now attends graduate school for speech language pathology with the end goal of working with young children with language developmental delays.

Ariel La, MS

Former Graduate Student

Ariel is a graduate of the master's program for Speech-Language Pathology. During her time at UW she worked with Dr. Ellis Weismer. To understand and talk about the world around them, children must learn to be experts at auditory and visual processing. Ariel is interested in how children decode and integrate this multisensory information, whether these processes change over time, and whether they look different in atypically developing populations. During her time at UW Ariel enjoyed trying new foods and re-learning how to walk in bulky winter clothing. 

Brianna McMillan, PhD

Former Graduate Student

Brianna received her PhD in Psychology in 2016, studying under Dr. Saffran. Brianna is interested in the dynamics that both hinder and facilitate early word learning in children. Currently she is studying how children learn words in environments where there are multiple people talking. While it is not uncommon for children to learn words in a complex auditory environment, the extent to which this complexity hinders or helps the development of language still remains uncertain.

Megan Neperud, BS

Former Undergraduate Research Assistant

Megan received her bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences & Disorders from UW-Madison in May 2015. She worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the Little Listeners Project. She is very excited to have been a part of this lab, which helped increase her knowledge of child language comprehension and autism spectrum disorder. After the Little Listeners Project Megan attended graduate school at UW-Milwuakee to become a speech-language pathologist with hopes to be placed in a school or pediatric clinical setting. 

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