Courtney Venker, PhD

Assistant Scientist

Waisman Center

1500 Highland Ave. Room 541
Madison, WI 53705 

courtney.venker@wisc.edu
photo of Courtney Venker


EDUCATION

Postdoctoral Training 2016, Neurodevelopmental Disorders, University of Wisconsin-Madison
PhD 2013, Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Wisconsin-Madison
MA 2007, Speech & Hearing Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
BA 2004, Communication Disorders, Truman State University


RESEARCH

Broadly, Dr. Venker's research focuses on language development in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her work relates to vision science in two primary ways. First, Dr. Venker's colleagues and herself are among the first to use eye-gaze methodology as an alternative measure of language comprehension in children with ASD. To assess comprehension, they use a paradigm (looking-while-listening) in which children view two images on a screen (e.g., cup, ball) and hear speech describing one of those images (e.g., “Where’s the cup?”). The amount of time they spend looking at the named image (cup) indicates whether they understand the spoken word. Interestingly, this work has shown that children with ASD understand things that may not be captured using traditional measures, such as standardized language assessments. Most of her work has used offline coding of video to determine children’s gaze location, but she also has experience using automatic eye-tracking.

Second, her research focuses on the relationship between language development and abnormal visual attention in children with ASD. In particular, she studies differences in visual disengagement (i.e., the ability to look away from something in the child’s focus of attention) and visual preferences (e.g., for perceptually salient non-social features of the environment). Dr. Venker is investigating whether these abnormal visual behaviors prevent children with ASD from looking at the ‘right’ thing at the ‘right’ time—altering the auditory-visual statistics they acquire and creating downstream negative effects on language development.