Our Stories – UConn Faculty: Dr. Letitia Naigles, Professor, Psychological Studies and Cognitive Science

UConn Faculty Member: Professor Letitia Naigles, Psychological Studies and Cognitive Science
How long have you been at UConn: 20 years
In a few words, tell us what you do and what are your areas of expertise?
I have conducted research on language acquisition with children learning a variety of languages, including English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Japanese, German, Hindi, and Korean. More specifically, I have investigated when children demonstrate creativity in language use, especially language comprehension, and how they process their linguistic input while acquiring a specific language. I have been engaged for the past 16 years in an intensive longitudinal investigation of the language development of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which has innovated the use of online looking methods to assess language in this population. My findings have illuminated which aspects of language seem to be acquired in typical fashion, and which are truly impaired, in children with ASD, providing new directions for treatment and intervention for both therapists and families.
What inspires you to come to UConn everyday?
Discovering new things . . . and teaching students to discover new things
In a typical week, what kinds of activities do you usually engage in?
1. Teaching graduate students, in class
2. Teaching undergraduate students, in class
3. Advising graduate students in their research
4. Writing papers about results from my lab
5. Advising undergraduates in data coding and analysis
6. Keeping tabs on the UCONN KIDS program
7. Keeping tabs on the Developmental division faculty and grad students
Give us an example of your most notable scholarly or creative work.
I recently put out a book entitled Innovative Investigations of Language in Autism Spectrum Disorder (APA/deGruyter, 2017), which included contributions from colleagues in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Switzerland, and Australia.
Here is a quick summary of that book –
Children with autism spectrum disorders vary hugely in their language use, with some children speaking pretty much like their typical peers, other children not speaking at all, and still other children filling in the space in between. The authors in this book take on the challenge of explaining this language variability from a host of innovative techniques. For example, many of the investigators track children’s eye movements during language tasks, and find that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders seem similar to typical peers in looking at the objects, events, and participants being talked about, but the efficiency and trajectory of their gaze patterns varies a lot. Other investigators focus more on variability in the children’s social situations, and variation in their ability to take advantage of information presented in these situations. The book thus impacts future research on language in Autism Spectrum Disorders by highlighting the complexity of their language profiles and promoting multiple possible causal trajectories for their language impairments.
What would you change about your work environment?
Less worry about money for funding graduate students!! The situation with the state government has been very worrying, and the budget cuts have made steep inroads into the number of grad students we can fund, which is highly detrimental to our continuing to train students and conduct our research.
What would you like your colleagues, the legislature, and the public to know about the work you do?
My research with young children has illuminated both surprising strengths and surprising weaknesses in their language development–i would like others to know that this research is critical for demonstrating how important is early intervention for children with disabilities, and how important is early preschool–because of the richness of the preschool environment–for all children.
How can we learn more about your work?
cll.uconn.edu; kids.uconn.edu
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