Krista Wilkinson, Ph.D.

photo of Krista Wilkinson


Contact Information

404J Ford Building
Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802


(fax) 814-863-3759


Ph.D., Georgia State University, 1993

Research Interests

Dr. Wilkinson studies early communication and language in learners with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Her main interests include vocabulary learning as well as the use of visual supports in communication and education. Dr. Wilkinson served as Editor for American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (2014-2016) and as Editor-in-Chief for 2017.  She has also served as Associate Editor at Augmentative and Alternative Communication and the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.  Dr. Wilkinson is an affiliated faculty with the Child Study Center at Penn State ( and holds an adjunct appointment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (

Examples of Collaborative Projects

Interdisciplinary exploration of visual-perceptual processes in the design of aided AAC symbol displays (NICHD P01 HD 25995, 2007-2012; Project 2 Principal Investigator; Program Project PI: William J. McIlvane). 

Run in collaboration with the Shriver Center of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, this project seeks to initiate study of the application of visual cognitive neuroscience to applied communication outcomes. We examine how basic perceptual cues (such as color or shape) may be exploited to guide attention to certain aspects of a visual communication aid, potentially facilitating use of the aid for communication and learning. This project makes use of both behavioral measures (speed and accuracy of search) as well as measures of learners’ observation of the display through eye-tracking technology. The project has received funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as well as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation.


Eye Tracking Technologies to Characterize and Optimize Visual Attending in Down Syndrome (NIH 1R01HD083381, Wilkinson, PI; Gilmore & McIlvane, Co-I; 2016-2021).

Because AAC relies on vision rather than sound/speech for access to the communication messages, it is critical to map out how children with DS examine and extract information from visual AAC displays. Otherwise there is the risk of implementing systems that are poorly matched to children's skills and needs, a practice that in turn results in limited use or abandonment of the system. Few current AAC designs consider the fit between the system and the visual processing skills of users, and most are uninformed by empirical knowledge about human visual information processing. Moreover, little is known about visual processing in persons with significant communication limitations. This research aims to improve the design of AAC displays through characterization of visual attention patterns to different AAC displays and their effects on functional use. Eye tracking - rarely used in DS - will reveal attention patterns/processes that typically go unrecorded in behavioral research. Our three-phase program will begin with eye tracking studies of visual attention under largely non-social laboratory conditions. In the next phase, we will introduce social interactions and record gaze path using mobile eye tracking technology. In the final phase, we will translate the knowledge gained in the laboratory studies to optimize functional communication in individuals with DS in performing tasks that represent typical daily life activities.


Motor Behavior and Visual Communication Aids (Penn State Social Sciences Research Institute: Wilkinson & Sainburg, PIs; 2015).

Messages on AAC displays are produced via means other than speech, typically via a selection by the individual who is using it. One of the most common methods of accessing these systems is called direct selection, in which the individual reaches or points to the desired messages using a finger or, in some cases, a stylus. Virtually nothing is known about what factors influence the efficiency and quality of motor reaches needed to access AAC symbols. This project examines what factors influence basic motor behaviors toward a simulated AAC display, including the choice of hand for selection, the time taken to initiate the movement, and the quality of the movement once initiated. Study has included adolescents and adults without disabilities, as well as adolescents and young adults with Down syndrome.

Selected Publications

Na, J., Wilkinson, K., & Liang, J. (in press). Early Development of Emotional Competence (EDEC) assessment tool for children with complex communication needs: Development and evidence. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Na, J., & Wilkinson, K., (2017). Communication about emotions during storybook reading: Effects of an instruction program including visual communication supports for parents of children with Down syndrome. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. DOI:10.1080/17549507.2017.1356376

Thistle, J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2017). Effects of background color and symbol arrangement cues on construction of multi-symbol messages by young children without disabilities: Implications for aided AAC design. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. DOI:10.1080/07434618.2017.1336571

Finke, E., Wilkinson, K. M., & Hickerson, B. (2017). Social referencing gaze behavior during a videogame task: Eye tracking evidence from children with and without ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 415-423.

Na, J. Y., Wilkinson, K., Karny, M., Blackstone, S., & Stifter, C. (2016). A synthesis of relevant literature on the development of emotional competence: implications for design of augmentative and alternative communication systems. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 25(3), 441-452. DOI:10.1044/2016_AJSLP-14-0124

Brady, N. C., Bruce, S., Goldman, A., Erickson, K., Mineo, B., Ogletree, B. T., Paul, D., Romski, M. A., Sevcik, R., Siegel, E., Schoonover, J., Snell, M., Sylvester, L., & Wilkinson, K. (2016). Communication services and supports for individuals with severe disabilities: Guidance for assessment and intervention. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 121(2), 121-138.

Thistle, J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2015). Building evidence-based practice in AAC display design: Current practices and future directions. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31, 124-136.

Wilkinson, K. M., Dennis, N., Webb, C., Therrien, M., Stradtman, M., Hetzel, J., Leach, R., Warrenfeltz, M., & Zeuner, C. (2015). Neural activity associated with visual search for line drawings on AAC displays: an exploration of the use of fMRI. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31(4), 310-324.

Wilkinson, K., Stutzman, A., & Seisler, A. (2015). “N400” brain responses are evoked by semantic content in photographs: Implications for visual scene displays used for augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31, 51-62. DOI: 10.3109/07434618.2014.965342

Wilkinson, K. M., & Light, J. (2014). Preliminary study of gaze toward humans in photographs by individuals with autism, Down syndrome, or other intellectual disability: Implications for design of Visual Scene Displays. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 130-146.

Courses Taught

CSD 462 Clinical Bases of Language Disorders

CSD 547 Language Disorders in Children

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Populations of Special Interest