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Krista Wilkinson
Krista Wilkinson
  • Communication Sciences and Disorders - CSD
  • Graduate Faculty
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  • Ph.D., Georgia State University, 1993
Office Address
404J Ford Building
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802
Professional Credentials


Grants and Research Projects

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 (

  • O’Neill, T.*, & Wilkinson, K. M. (2020). Preliminary investigation of perspectives of parents of children with cerebral palsy on the supports, challenges, and realities of integrating AAC into everyday life. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29, 1-17.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. & Madel, M.* (2019).  Eye tracking measures reveal how changes in the design of displays for augmentative and alternative communication influence visual search in individuals with Sown syndrome or autism spectrum disorder.  American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 28, 1649-1658. doi/10.1044/2019_AJSLP-19-0006

  • O’Neill, T. O.*, Wilkinson, K. M., & Light, J. (2019). Visual attention to AAC displays with a main visual scene display and navigation bar for individuals with and without developmental disabilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 35, 240-250.

  • Light, J., Wilkinson, K. M., Theissen, A., Beukelman, D., & Fager, S. (2019). Designing effective AAC displays for individuals with developmental or acquired disabilities: State of the science and future research directions. Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

  • O’Neill, T. O.*, & Wilkinson, K. M. (2019). Designing developmentally sensitive AAC technologies for young children with complex communication needs: Considerations of communication, working memory, attention, motor skills, and sensory-perception.Seminars in Speech and Language, 40, 320-332.

  • Liang, J.*, Wilkinson, K. M., & Sainburg, R. (2018). Cognitive perceptual load modulates hand selection in left-handers to agreater extent than in right-handers. Experimental Brain Research

  • Liang, J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2018). Gaze toward naturalistic social scenes by individuals with autism: Implications for AAC designs. Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 61, 1157-1170. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0331.

  • Liang, J., Wilkinson, K. M., & Sainburg, R. (2018). Is hand selection modulated by cognitive-perceptual load? Neuroscience, 369, 363-373.

  • Na, J., Wilkinson, K., & Liang, J. (2018). Early Development of Emotional Competence (EDEC) assessment tool for children with complex communication needs: Development and evidence. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27, 24-36.  doi:10.1044/2017_AJSLP-16-0058

  • 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.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Mitchell, T. (2014). Eye-tracking research for answering well-formed questions about augmentative and alternative communication assessment and intervention. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 106-119.

  • Dube, W. V., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2014). The potential role of “stimulus overselectivity” in AAC: information from eye-tracking and behavioral studies of attention. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 72-85.

  • Wilkinson, K., O’Neill, T., & McIlvane, W. J. (2014). Eye-tracking measures reveal how changes in the design of aided AAC displays influence the efficiency of locating symbols by school-aged children without disabilities. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57, 455-466.

  • Thistle, J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2013). Working memory demands of augmentative and alternative communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 29, 235-245.

  • Wilkinson, K., & McIlvane, W. J. (2013). Perceptual factors influence visual search for meaningful symbols in individuals with intellectual disabilities and Down syndrome or autism spectrum disorders. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 118, 353-364.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., Light, J., & Drager, K. (2012). Considerations for the composition of Visual Scene Displays: Potential contributions of information from visual and cognitive sciences. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28, 137-147. **recipient of 2012 AAC Editors Award.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. (2012). Preliminary evidence suggests that visual scene displays and grids each support shared book reading activities in young children. Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention (Review). DOI:10.1080/17489539.2012.693663

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Snell, J. (2011). Facilitating children’s ability to distinguish symbols for emotions: The effects of background color cues and spatial arrangement of symbols on accuracy and speed of search. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20, 288-301.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Light, J. (2011). Preliminary investigation of visual attention to human figures in photographs: Potential considerations for the design of aided AAC visual scene displays. Journal of Speech-Language-Hearing Research, 54, 1644-1657.

  • Mackay, H., Wilkinson, K. M., & Farrell, C., & Serna, R. (2011). Evaluating merger and intersection of equivalence classes with one member in common. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 96, 87-105.

  • McFadd, E., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2010). Qualitative analysis of decision making by clinicians during design of aided visual displays. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 26, 136-147.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Coombs, B. (2010). Preliminary exploration of the effect of background color on the speed and accuracy of search for an aided symbol target by typically developing preschoolers.  Early Childhood Services; Special Issue on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4, 33-47.

  • Haimson, B., Wilkinson, K. M., Rosenquist, C., Ouimet, C., & McIlvane, W. J. (2009). Electrophysiological correlates of stimulus equivalence processes. The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 92, 245-256.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Hennig, S. (2009). Consideration of cognitive, attentional, and motivational demands in the construction of aided AAC systems. In G. Soto & C. Zangari (Eds.), Practically Speaking: Language, Literacy, and Academic Development for Students with Special Needs (pp. 313-334). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., Rosenquist, C., & McIlvane, W. J. (2009). Exclusion learning and emergent symbolic category formation in individuals with severe language impairments and intellectual disabilities. The Psychological Record, 59, 187-206.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., & Reichle, J. (2009). The role of aided AAC in replacing unconventional communicative acts with more conventional ones. In P. Mirenda, T. Iacono, & J. Light (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders and AAC (chapter 13). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

  • Thistle, J., & Wilkinson, K. M. (2009). The effects of color cues on typically developing preschoolers’ speed of locating a target line drawing: Implications for AAC display design. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 231-240.

  • Jagaroo, V. & Wilkinson, K. M. (2008). Further considerations of visual cognitive neuroscience for aided AAC: The potential role of motion perception systems in maximizing design display. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 24, 29–42.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. & Hennig, S. (2007). State of the art and current recommended practice in augmentative and alternative communication. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13, 58–69.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. (2007). The effect of 'missing' information on retention of fast mapped labels by individuals with receptive vocabulary limitations associated with intellectual disability. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112, 40–53.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. (2006). A brief history of mental retardation and developmental disabilities: Where have we been, and where are we now? Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 13, 2–6.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. & Rosenquist, C. (2006). Demonstration of a method for assessing semantic organization and category membership in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and receptive vocabulary limitations. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22, 242–257.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., Carlin, M., & Jagaroo, V. (2006). Preschoolers’ speed of locating a target symbol under different color conditions. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 22, 123–133.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. (2005). Disambiguation and mapping of new word meanings by individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 110, 71–86.

  • Wilkinson, K. M. & Jagaroo, V. (2004). Contributions of visual cognitive neuroscience to AAC display design. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 123–136.

  • Wilkinson, K. M., Carlin, M. & Thistle, J. (2008). The role of color cues in facilitating accurate and rapid location of aided symbols by children with and without Down Syndrome. American Journal of Speech-Language-Pathology, 17, 179–193.

Additional Information

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.