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Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. is an American child clinical psychologist, specializing in autism. She has conducted extensive research on the early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and collaborated on studies of brain development and function as well as genetic risk factors in autism. Dawson is Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Dawson also holds the positions of Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University of Washington. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, American Psychological Association, and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
Dawson received her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Washington in 1974 and her Ph.D. in developmental psychology and child clinical psychology from the University of Washington in 1979. In 1980, she was a postdoctoral fellow and clinical intern at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA, where she specialized in neurodevelopmental disorders. She became a licensed practicing child clinical psychologist in 1980.
Dawson has had an active career as a scientist and practicing clinical psychologist focusing on autism spectrum disorders and child psychopathology. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals on autism and the effects of early experience on the developing brain. She received continuous NIH funding for her research from 1980–2008 when she left her tenured faculty position at the University of Washington to become Autism Speaks’ first chief science officer. At Autism Speaks, Dawson oversees $20–30 million in annual research funding, including funding for the Autism Treatment Network, the Autism Global Public Health Initiative, the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, the Autism Genome Project, and the Autism Tissue Program.
Early in her career, Dawson was an assistant professor of child clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and affiliate of the TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children) program from 1980–1985. In 1985, she returned to her alma mater to join the psychology department faculty, where she directed the University of Washington Child Clinical Psychology Program (1985–1991; 1999–2004). From 1996-2008, Dawson was Founding Director of the University of Washington Autism Center, which worked with Microsoft Corporation to set a precedent for companies to provide insurance coverage for autism early intervention. At the UW Autism Center, she was director of three NIH Autism Center of Excellence Awards, which provided funding for a multi-million dollar multi-disciplinary autism research program focusing on genetics, neuroimaging, early diagnosis, and treatment. At the Autism Center, Dawson also oversaw an endowed treatment center for children and adolescents with autism, which provided multi-disciplinary diagnostic and treatment services for children with autism from infancy through late adolescence. Dawson has served as Associate Editor for three scientific journals: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (1996–2000), Development and Psychopathology (1999–present), and Psychophysiology (1999–2000), and serves on the editorial boards for Autism Research and the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Dawson’s work has been featured frequently in the media, including programs such as the Jim Lehrer Newshour, PBS Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda, The New York Times, among many others. In 2008, Dawson was featured in the journal, Science, when she began her new role at Autism Speaks.
Dawson’s research has focused on early detection and intervention, brain dysfunction (using electrophysiology and functional magnetic resonance imaging), and genetic studies. Her key scientific discoveries include demonstrating that maternal depression can influence early brain activity and stress responses of infants and children, the detection of autism symptoms in infants, empirical validation of autistic regression, and elucidation of the nature of early brain dysfunction in autism. In addition, in collaboration with Dr. Sally Rogers, Dawson developed and empirically-validated the Early Start Denver Model, the first comprehensive early intervention program for very young children with autism. Dawson pioneered the use of home videotapes to study early symptoms of autism and the use of electrophysiological techniques to study brain function in very young children with autism.
Dawson has testified before the United States Senate to advocate for individuals with autism and their families: in 1999 in support of the Child Health Act of 2000, in 2002 on behalf of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, and in 2009 at the request of the Senate to provide an update on the current state of autism science.
Honors, Awards and Appointments
Dawson’s honors and awards included the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), Geoffrey Beene Rock Star of Science Award (2010), Autism Hero Award from the Cure Autism Now Foundation (2006), Autism Society of America Award for Research Contributions to the Autism Community (2004), Autism Society of Washington Medical Professional of the Year (2004), Washington Autism Society Achievement Award for Outstanding Service (1996), Autism Society of America Award for Valuable Service (1989) and the Gatzert Child Welfare Award (1977). Dawson has been an advisor to the National Institutes of Health since 1989. Dawson’s research demonstrating that early intervention can normalize brain responses to social information in young children with autism was recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2012.
She currently is a member of the National Institutes of Health Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee that coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning Autism Spectrum Disorders.u From 1998-1999, she served on the NIH Committee on Practice Parameters for Screening and Diagnosis of Autism. From 2001-2, she was a member of the NIH Committee on Practice Parameters for Treatment of Autism. From 2003-7, she was a member of the NIH Scientific Advisory Panel to establish a 10 year road map for autism research. In 2008, she chaired the NIH Scientific Advisory Panel’s subcommittee on Autism Treatment Research. Dawson also served on the NIH Consensus Panel on Phenylketonuria and as a panelist for the National Vaccine Advisory Committee Vaccine Safety Working Group. Dawson has served on the NIH Child Psychopathology and Treatment Grant Review Committee, the NIMH Grant Review Biological and Neurological Subcommittee, and the NIMH Grant Review Committee for Behavioral Science. She also served on the steering committees for the NIH Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism and the NIH Studies to Accelerate Autism Research and Treatment Program.
Dawson, G., & Adams, A. (1984). Imitation and social responsiveness in autistic children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 12, 209-225.
Dawson, G., & Galpert, L. (1986). A developmental model for facilitating the social behavior of autistic children. In E. Schopler G. Mesibov (Eds.). Social Behavior in Autism, (pp. 237–261) New York: Plenum.
Dawson, G., Finley, C., Phillips, S., & Galpert, L. (1986). Hemispheric specialization and the language abilities of autistic children. Child Development, 57, 1440-1453. Dawson, G., & Lewy, A. (1989). Reciprocal subcortical-cortical influences in autism: The role of attentional mechanisms. In G. Dawson (Ed.) Autism: Nature, Diagnosis and Treatment, (pp. 144 –173). New York: Guilford.
Dawson, G., Hill, D., Galpert, L., Spencer, A., & Watson, L (1990). Affective exchanges between young autistic children and their mothers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 18, 335-345.
Dawson, G., & Galpert, L. (1990). Mothers' use of imitative play for facilitating the social behavior of autistic children. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 151-162.
Dawson, G., Grofer, L., Hill, D., Panagiotides, H., and Speiker, S. (1992). Frontal lobe activity and affective behavior of infants of mothers with depressive symptoms. Child Development, 63, 725-737.
Osterling, J., & Dawson, G. (1994). Early recognition of children with autism: A study of first birthday home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 247-257.
Dawson, G., & Osterling, J. (1997). Early intervention in autism: Effectiveness and common elements of current approaches. In Guralnick (Ed.) The effectiveness of early intervention: Second generation research. (pp. 307–326) Baltimore: Brookes.
Dawson, G., Meltzoff, A., Osterling, J., & Brown, E. (1998). Children with autism fail to orient to social stimuli. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 479-485.
Dawson, G., Meltzoff, A., Osterling, J., & Rinaldi, J. (1998). Neuropsychological correlates of early autistic symptoms. Child Development, 69, 1247-1482.
Werner, E., Dawson, G., Osterling, J., & Dinno, J. (2000). Recognition of autism before 1 year of age: A retrospective study based on home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 157-162.
Dawson, G., Osterling, J., Meltzoff, A.N., & Kuhl, P. (2000). Case study of the development of an infant with autism from birth to 2 years of age. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21, 299-313.
Dawson, G., Ashman, S., & Carver, L., (2000). The role of early experience in shaping behavioral and brain development and its implications for social policy. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 695-712.
Ashman, S. B., Dawson, G., Panagiotides, H., Yamada, E., & Wilkinson, C. W. (2002). Stress hormone levels of children of depressed mothers. Development and Psychopathology 14, 333-49.
Dawson, G., Carver, L., Meltzoff, A.N., Panagiotides, H., & McPartland, J. (2002). Neural correlates of face recognition in young children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and typical development. Child Development, 73, 700-717.
Dawson, G., Munson, J., Estes, A., Osterling, J., McPartland, J., Toth, K., Carver, L., Abbot, R. (2002). Neurocognitive function and joint attention ability in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Child Development, 73, 345-358.
Sparks, B.F., Friedman, S.D., Shaw, D.W., Aylward. E.H., Echelard, D., Artru, A.A., Maravilla, K.R., Giedd, J.N., Munson, J., Dawson, G., & Dager, S.R. (2002). Brain Structural Abnormalities in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neurology, 59, 184-192. Yu, C., Dawson, G., Munson, J., D’Souza, I., Osterling, J., Estes, A., A., Leutenegger, A.-L., Flodman, P., Smith, M., Raskind, W.H., Spence, M.A., McMahon, W., Wijsman, W.M., Schellenberg, G.D. (2002). Presence of Large Deletions in Autism Kindred. American Journal of Human Genetics, 71, 100-115.
Dawson, G., Webb, S., Schellenberg, G., Aylward., E., Richards, T., Dager, S., & Friedman, S., (2002). Defining the phenotype of autism: Genetic, brain, and behavioral perspectives. Special Issue of Development and Psychopathology on “Multiple Levels of Analysis.” Cicchetti, D., & Dawson, G., (Editors), 14, 581-611.
Dawson, G., Ashman, S.B., Panagiotides, H., Hessl, D., Self, J., Yamada, E., & Embry, L. (2003). Preschool outcomes of children of depressed mothers: Role of maternal behavior, contextual risk, and children’s brain activity. Child Development. 74(4), 1158-75.
Dawson, G., & Zanolli, K. (2003). Early intervention and brain plasticity in autism. In G. Bock & J. Goode (Eds.). Autism: Neural bases and treatment possibilities. (Novartis Foundation Symposium 251), (pp. 266–280), Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Werner, E. & Dawson. G. (2005). Regression in autism: Validation of the phenomenon using home videotapes. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 889-895.
Dawson, G., Webb, S.J., Wijsman, E., Schellenberg, G., Estes, A., Munson, J., & Faja, S. (2005). Neurocognitive and electrophysiological evidence of altered face processing in parents of children with autism: Implications for a model of abnormal development of social brain circuitry in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 679-697.
Schellenberg, G.D., Dawson, G., Sung, Y.J., Estes, A., Munson, J., Rosenthal, E., Rothstein, J., Flodman, P., Smith, M., Coon, H., Leong, L., Yu, C-E., Stodgell, G., Rodier, P.M., Spence, A., Minshew, N., McMahon, W.M., Wijsman, E. (2006). Evidence for multiple loci from a genome scan of autism kindred: A CPEA Study. Molecular Psychiatry: 11, 1049-60.
Dawson, G., Estes, A., Munson, J., Schellenberg, G., & Bernier, R. (2007). Quantitative assessment of autism symptoms in children with autism and their parents: Broader Phenotype Autism Symptom Scale. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 37: 523-536.
Dawson, G., Munson J., Webb S.J., Nalty, T., Abbott, R., Toth, K. (2007). Deceleration in rate of head growth and decline in skills in the second year of life in autism. Biological Psychiatry.61:458-464.
Murias, M., Webb, S., Greenson, J., and Dawson, G. (2007). Resting state cortical connectivity reflected in EEG coherence in individuals with autism. Biological Psychiatry, 62L 270-3.
Ashman, S., Dawson, G. (2008). Trajectories of maternal depression over seven years: Relations with child psychophysiology and behavior. Development and Psychopathology. 20: 55-77. Autism Genome Project Consortium (2007) Mapping autism risk loci using genetic linkage and chromosomal rearrangements. Nature Genetics, 39(3):319-28
Dawson, G. (2008) Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 20: 775-803.
Zwaigenbaum, L., Bryson, S., Lord, C., Rogers, S., Carter, A., Chawarska, K., Dawson, G., Fein, G., Iverson, J., Landa, R., Stone, W., Yirmiya, N. (2009) Clinical assessment and management of toddlers with suspected ASD: Insights from studies of high-risk infants. Pediatrics, 123: 1383-1391.
Kleinhans, NM, Johnson, LC, Richards, T, Mahurin, R, Greenson, J, Dawson, G, and Awlward, E. Reduced neural habituation in the amygdala and social impairments in autism spectrum disorders. (2009) American Journal of Psychiatry, 166: 467-75.
Dawson, G., Rogers, S., Munson, J., Smith, M., Winter, J., Greenson, J., Donaldson, A., and Varley, J. (2010). Randomized controlled trial of the early Start Denver Model, a developmental behavioral intervention for toddlers with autism: Effects on IQ, adaptive behavior, and autism diagnosis. Pediatrics, 125: 17-23.
Dawson, G., Jones, E.J., Merkle, K., Venema, K., Lowy, R., Faja, S., Kamara, D., Murias, M., Greenson, J., Winter, J., Smith, M., Rogers, SJ. and Webb, S.J. (2012) Early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized brain activity in young children with autism. Journal of the Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 51: 1550-9.
- O'Connor, Anahad (December 14, 2004). "In Autism: New goal is finding it soon enough". The New York Times.
- Parker-Pope, Tara (December 22, 2009). "Rasing I.Q. in toddlers with autism". The New York Times.
- Editorial (February 21, 2007). "Breathtaking teamwork in fighting autism". The Seattle Times.
- Twachtman-Cullen, Diane (Summer, 2008). "Dr. Geraldine Dawson: Setting the research agenda for Autism Speaks.". Autism Spectrum Quartlerly.
- Editorial (February 27, 2008). "6. A champion fights the puzzle of autism: Geraldine Dawson is a champion puzzler who would put Will Shortz to shame.". The Seattle Times.
- Taylor, Beth (May 10, 2002). "7. Microsoft, employees collaborate to craft autism benefit.". Puget Sound Business Journal.
- Seven, Richard (August 19, 2001). "8. Unraveling the deep, daily mysteries of autism: While parents sort the pieces, UW researchers hunt for connections.". The Seattle Times.
- "Growing Up Different". PBS Scientific Frontiers with Alan Alda. 2001.
- Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (February 22, 2008). "Newsmakers: Three Q’s for Geraldine Dawson.". Science.
- Wallis, Claudia (November 30, 2009). "New evidence that therapy helps autistic kids.". Time.
- Reuters (August 5, 2009). "13. oday in Congress: Senate: Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee holds a hearing on Autism Research, Treatments, and Interventions.". The Washington Post.