New Faculty Member Focuses on How Infants Perceive Sound
Jan. 17, 2013
Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz
Dr. Andrea Warner-Czyz seeks to learn more about how infants perceive sound. A new position at UT Dallas will help her expand that research and share her knowledge with students.
Warner-Czyz is now an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences after spending the past seven years as a post-doctoral researcher and instructor in the school and at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders. During that time, she devoted much of her energy to understanding how speech perception emerges in infants and children with hearing loss.
“Now that I am a faculty member, I will have more flexibility to explore multiple factors that impact how infants and young children perceive spectrally degraded speech,” she said. “Establishing collaborations within and across departments – as well as with the off-campus community – will lead to multiple perspectives and theories explaining emergence of speech perception with an impoverished signal.”
Warner-Czyz has often worked closely with Dr. Emily Tobey, vice provost and Nelle C. Johnston Endowed Chair in Communication Disorders, on projects involving cochlear implants and how young children adapt to the devices. She plans to also continue collaborations with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Children’s Medical Center Dallas and other universities across the nation.
She said she enjoys teaching students because she learns from their fresh approaches. She taught the seminar on cochlear implants this year and has taught evidence-based practice courses in the past.
Warner-Czyz is currently researching the effects of reduced hearing resolution, such as the sound received through a cochlear implant, on infants’ ability to discriminate basic sounds. This early speech perception skill depends on the ability to recognize patterns in speech. Though cochlear implant devices restore the sensation of hearing to people with major hearing loss, the range of sounds that patients hear is reduced compared to those with normal hearing.
She examines this perception by presenting a cochlear implant-simulated signal to infants with normal hearing to see how well they discriminate degraded speech. The reduced resolution can cause individuals with cochlear implants to have problems identifying verbal cues, such as syllables, words and sentences. This effort may be harder for infants and children who have less experience with language and less ability to fill in gaps when they get distorted signals.
Warner-Czyz’s research has implications for clinical monitoring and the establishment of realistic expectations for speech perception by infants with hearing loss and cochlear implants.
“What happens to development when speech perception is not normal but is available in a degraded format?” she said. “This is a crucial point because hearing loss in infants can be identified at birth and we, as clinicians, professionals and parents, need to understand how to assess early speech perception skills and what to expect communicatively from infants with hearing loss.”
Another area of research looks at how cochlear implants affect the quality of life for children and adolescents. She and her colleagues are investigating day-to-day living issues related to overall physical, psychological and social well-being.
Tobey said Warner-Czyz strives to help one of the most vulnerable patient populations, babies.
"Dr. Warner-Czyz represents the high quality of young faculty we wish to bring to UT Dallas,” Tobey said. “Her current research reaches out to understand how normal hearing babies inform us about how babies with hearing losses perceive and learn about the world.
"Her work on the quality of life for children with cochlear implants demonstrates exquisitely how children and parents perceive their worlds in the same and different ways. Her work looking at how young babies with normal hearing respond to signals from cochlear implants will set the standards for marking how we should clinically design better ways of helping a young child hear, perhaps for the first time. "
Warner-Czyz earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a master's in audiology from the University of Florida, a PhD in communication sciences and disorders from UT Austin and a master's in clinical science from UT Southwestern Medical Center. Her post-doctoral work at UT Dallas began in 2005.
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