PhD, University of Arizona
Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders
Waisman Center, Room 491
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: (608) 263-6940
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Communication and Cognition Laboratory
How do neurological disorders affect the ability to communicate? This is the central question in my research. Specifically, I study the ways in which communication ability is affected by acquired impairments in cognitive functions such as memory, executive function, and social cognition. My studies have two main objectives: 1) to characterize the relation of cognitive functions to communication behaviors in typically developing adolescents and adults, 2) to identify the effects of developmental and acquired neurological impairments on this relationship. My long-term goal is to use the information derived from these studies to design effective therapies for individuals with neurological communication disorders.
In the Communication and Cognition Laboratory, our typical study participants are adolescents with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Individuals with TBI rarely have focal language deficits. That is, they do not have aphasia a loss of the ability to understand and produce language symbols. Instead, they have cognitive-communication disorders, defined as communication deficits due to impairments in cognitive functions such as memory. To appreciate the distinction, you might imagine being in a foreign country where you know the concepts but not the language (this is analogous to aphasia) vs. knowing the language but making an inappropriate comment because you forgot the cultural norms (a communication error from a memory lapse). Individuals with TBI typically have impairments in working memory, declarative learning, and executive functions (e.g., self-regulation and abstract thinking), and these often manifest as challenges communicating effectively in daily social life. Thus, they are a unique group in which to study cognitive functions in relation to social communication.
In the past several years, there has been a growing interest in social communication among researchers in developmental and cognitive psychology, driven largely by studies of children with autism spectrum disorders. These researchers considered the cognitive skills underlying pragmatics to be unique, and coined the term social cognition to describe the cognitive abilities that are central to processing social information. Currently, Len Abbeduto and I are collaborating in a study of social communication in female adolescents with fragile X syndrome. We are applying our approaches from TBI to better understand the social strengths and challenges of young women with fragile X syndrome.
One might ask, why study adolescents? There are several reasons to learn more about individuals in this age group. First, adolescence is associated with important changes in brain structure and function, so social communication problems might emerge at this age and also might be amenable to treatment. Second, adolescents are an underserved and understudied group, with unique social, cognitive, and environmental characteristics as well as high expectations for social behavior. The intersection of all of these factors makes it particularly relevant to advance our knowledge about communication disorders at this age. Third, adolescents social behavior is a medium in which to study complex cognitive and language functions in action, as pragmatic aspects of communication undergo major developmental change at this stage.
Turkstra, L.S. (2008). Conversation-Based Assessment of Social Cognition in Adults with Traumatic Brain Injury. Brain Injury 22(5):397-409.
Ylvisaker, M., Turkstra, L.S., Coelho, C., Kennedy, M.R.T., Yorkston, K Sohlberg, M.M, & Avery, J. (2007). Behavioral Interventions for Children and Adults with Behavior Disorders after TBI: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. Brain Injury 21(8):761-805.
Turkstra, L.S. (2006). Looking while listening and speaking: Eye-to-face gaze in adolescents with and without traumatic brain injury. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48(6):1429-1441
Turkstra, L. S., Dixon, T. M., & Baker, K. K. (2004). Theory of Mind and social beliefs in adolescents with traumatic brain injury. NeuroRehabilitation, 19(3), 245-256.
Stronach, S. T., & Turkstra, L. S. (2004). Theory of Mind and Use of Cognitive State Terms by Adolescents with Traumatic Brain Injury. Aphasiology 22(10):1054-1070.