Assistant Professor
Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders
University of Kansas


About Me


I am an assistant professor in Speech-Language-Hearing:Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kansas. 

I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Callier Center at the University of Texas at Dallas from 2016-2018. I earned my Ph.D. in 2016 in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the mentorship of Dr. Susan Ellis Weismer. I received my clinical M.S. in speech-language pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011, and I worked as a speech-language pathologist at the Communication Development Center for 5 years. I received my B.S. from the University of Arizona in 2004. 

My research focuses on spoken and written language comprehension in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across the lifespan. My specific research interests are in the contributions of different cognitive, linguistic, and social factors in the development of reading abilities across the autism spectrum. Current projects are focused on investigating the role of spoken language and social communication in story comprehension with an emphasis on determining child and text influences. I employ eye tracking and text analysis methodologies as part of this work. The overarching goal of my work is to determine profiles of strength and weakness in comprehension and underlying skills in order to identify targeted areas for effective clinical treatment.


Selected Publications


Davidson, M.M. & Ellis Weismer, S. (2018). 

A preliminary investigation of parent-reported fiction

versus non-fiction book preferences of school-age children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Language Impairments, 3, 1-12.

Background & aims: Anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder prefer non-fiction books over fiction books. The current study was the first to investigate parent-reports of children with autism spectrum disorder’s fiction and non-fiction book preferences and whether these relate to individual differences in social communication, oral language, and/or reading abilities.
Method: Children (ages 8–14 years, M = 10.89, SD = 1.17) with autism spectrum disorder diagnoses (n = 19) and typically developing peers (n = 21) participated. Children completed standardized measures of social communication, oral language, and reading abilities. Parents reported children’s current favorite book, and from these responses, we coded children’s fiction versus non-fiction book preferences.
Main contribution: Contrary to anecdotal evidence, children with autism spectrum disorder preferred fiction similar to their typically developing peers. Fiction versus non-fiction book preference was significantly related to social communication abilities across both groups. Children’s oral language and reading abilities were related, as expected, but the evidence for a relationship between social communication and reading comprehension was mixed.
Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence supporting the association of social communication in fiction versus non-fiction book preference, which may be related to children’s comprehension and support the theoretical role of social communication knowledge in narrative/fiction.
Implications: It should not be assumed that all children with autism spectrum disorder prefer expository/non-fiction or do not read narrative/fiction. Children who prefer non-fiction may need additional social communication knowledge support to improve their understanding of narrative fiction.

Davidson, M.M, Kaushanskaya, M., & Ellis Weismer, S. (2018). Reading comprehension in children with and without ASD: The role of word reading, oral language, and working memory. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Abstract: Word reading and oral language predict reading comprehension, which is generally poor, in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, working memory (WM), despite documented weaknesses, has not been thoroughly investigated as a predictor of reading comprehension in ASD. This study examined the role of three parallel WM N-back tasks using abstract shapes, familiar objects, and written words in children (8–14 years) with ASD (n = 19) and their typically developing peers (n = 24). All three types of WM were significant predictors of reading comprehension when considered alone. However, these relationships were rendered non-significant with the addition of age, word reading, vocabulary, and group entered into the models. Oral vocabulary emerged as the strongest predictor of reading comprehension.

Davidson, M.M. & Ellis Weismer, S. (2017). Reading comprehension of ambiguous sentences by school-age children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 10(12), 2002-2022.

Abstract: Weak central coherence (processing details over gist), poor oral language abilities, poor suppression, semantic interference, and poor comprehension monitoring have all been implicated to affect reading comprehension in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study viewed the contributions of different supporting skills as a collective set of skills necessary for context integration—a multi-component view—to examine individual differences in reading comprehension in school-age children (8–14 years) with ASD (n = 23) and typically developing control peers (n = 23). Participants completed a written ambiguous sentence comprehension task in which participants had to integrate con- text to determine the correct homonym meaning via picture selection. Both comprehension products (i.e., offline representations after reading) and processes (i.e., online processing during reading) were evaluated. Results indicated that children with ASD, similar to their TD peers, integrated the context to access the correct homonym meanings while reading. However, after reading the sentences, when participants were asked to select the meanings, both groups experienced semantic interference between the two meanings. This semantic interference hindered the children with ASD’s sentence representation to a greater degree than their peers. Individual differences in age/development, word recognition, vocabulary breadth (i.e., number of words in the lexicon), and vocabulary depth (i.e., knowledge of the homonym meanings) contributed to sentence comprehension in both children with ASD and their peers. Together, this evidence supports a multi-component view, and that helping children with ASD develop vocabulary depth may have cascading effects on their reading comprehension.

Davidson, M.M. & Ellis Weismer, S. (2017). A discrepancy in comprehension and production in early language development in ASD: Is it clinically relevant? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(7), 2163-2175.

Abstract: This study examined the extent to which a discrepant comprehension-production profile (i.e., relatively more delayed comprehension than production) is characteristic of the early language phenotype in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and tracked the developmental progression of the profile. Our findings indicated that a discrepant comprehension-production profile distinguished toddlers (30 months) with ASD from late talkers without ASD (91% sensitivity, 100% specificity) in groups that were comparable on expressive language, age, and socioeconomic status. Longitudinal data for children with ASD revealed that the discrepant profile steadily decreased from 30 to 44 months until there was no significant comprehension-production difference at 66 months. In conclusion, results suggest that lower comprehension than production may be an age-spe- cific marker of toddlers with ASD.

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Contact Me

1000 Sunnyside Avenue, Lawrence, KS 66045

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