York University, BA, MA, PhD

My research focuses on communication in autism spectrum disorder and the relationship of language development to neurocognition. Major threads in my work include studying neurocognitive factors that drive conversation skills, developing methods for clinical discourse analysis, and analyzing pragmatics from a broad, interdisciplinary perspective.

I have received funding from SSHRC, CIHR, UBC’s Hampton Research endowment Fund and various small UBC grants for my research. In 2009 I was a Peter Wall Early Career Scholar and in 2011 I received the Killam Faculty Research Fellowship.

I have also collaborated with several research networks studying autism and linguistics, both nationally and abroad, including, currently the international research project “Context in Autism Spectrum Disorders”, funded by the FRS-FNRS National Fund for Scientific Research (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique) in Brussels, Belgium.

I am working on a study to understand the relationship between a person’s information processing style and their conversation skills. Other work is focused on monitoring and social cognition in autism spectrum disorder.

My teaching areas are discourse, conversation, pragmatics and linguistic structure. I teach using a range of linguistic approaches, depending on the focus or topic being studied. I also encourage students to include a variety of approaches and techniques in their study of English language.

In my courses I treat linguistics as something that we do, not just something that we study or know, and so my classes tend to be activity based, while still providing strong theoretical foundations. I also emphasize the social aspect of language and communication, encouraging interaction among students and collaborative learning.

  • Autism and language (Forthcoming). With Mikhail Kissine, Cambridge University Press.
  • Lacus Forum, 41 (Forthcoming). With William Sullivan and Dan Mailman. (Forthcoming). Linguistics Association of Canada and the United States.
  • When Language Breaks Down. 2010. With Elissa Asp. Cambridge University Press.
  • de Villiers, Jessica and Robert Stainton, eds. (2009). Michael Gregory’s Proposals for a Communication Linguistics. Toronto: GREF (Groupe de recherches en études francophones).
  • de Villiers, J., S. Yang and P. Szatmari. (2013). “Use of language for the identification of autism and asperger syndrome”. In Preedy, Victor, ed. The Comprehensive Guide to Autism. New York: Springer.
  • de Villiers, Jessica, Robert Stainton and Peter Szatmari (2007). “Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Semantics/Pragmatics Boundary: A Case Study in Philosophy and the Empirical”. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 30(1), 292-317.
  • de Villiers, Jessica, Jonathan Fine, Gary Ginsberg, Liezanne Vaccarella and Peter Szatmari (2006). “A Scale for Rating Conversational Impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37(7): 1375-80, 2007.

I am collaborating on the project ACTE (Autism in Context: Theory and Experience). At the Université libre de Bruxelles. Our main goal is to understand the nature and causes of communication difficulties and language delays in Autism Spectrum Disorder. To investigate these areas we are applying techniques from cognitive psychology and linguistics.

ACTE is supported by the Fonds National de Recherche Scientifique de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Université libre de Bruxelles and the Foundation Wiener-Anspach.