Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. is an American child clinical psychologist, specializing in autism. She has conducted extensive research on early detection, brain development, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and collaborated on studies of genetic risk factors in autism. Dawson is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Psychology and Neuroscience, and Director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development at Duke University Medical Center. Dawson is Past-President of the International Society for Autism Research, a scientific and professional organization devoted to advancing knowledge about autism spectrum disorders. From 2008-2013, Dawson was Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks. Dawson also held the position of Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and is Professor Emerita 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 UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, where she specialized in neurodevelopmental disorders. She became a licensed practicing child clinical psychologist in 1980.
Dawson has had a 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.
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 multimillion-dollar multi-disciplinary autism research program focusing on genetics, neuroimaging, early diagnosis, and treatment. Dawson also founded and oversaw an endowed treatment center for autistic children and adolescents at the UW Autism Center, which provided multi-disciplinary diagnostic and treatment services for autistic children from infancy through late adolescence. Dawson has served as Associate Editor or Editorial Board Member for seven scientific journals: Clinical Psychological Science, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Development and Psychopathology, Psychophysiology, Autism Research, Autism Research and Treatment, and the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
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. 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. In collaboration with Dr. Sally J. Rogers, Dawson developed and empirically validated the Early Start Denver Model, the first comprehensive early intervention program for very young children with autism.
Dawson 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 oversaw $20–30 million in annual research funding, including funding for the Autism Treatment Network, the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, the Autism Genome Project, and the Autism Tissue Program. Under her leadership at Autism Speaks, several new initiatives were launched, including the Translational Medicine Research Initiative, Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, the Trailblazer Award, the Autism 10K Genome Project, the Early Access to Care Initiative, the Global Autism Public Health Initiative, and DELSIA (Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism), a not-for-profit affiliate of Autism Speaks focused on accelerating scientific breakthroughs through partnerships with industry. In 2008, Dawson was featured in the journal, Science, when she began her new role at Autism Speaks.
Media and popular press coverage
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. Her research demonstrating that early intervention can normalize brain activity in children with autism was recognized by TIME magazine as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2012. The Early Start Denver Model is described in the January 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind. Dawson's scientific research was recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a Top Advance in Autism Research in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016.
Dawson has testified before the United States Senate to advocate for autistic individuals 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, in 2009 at the request of the Senate to provide an update on the current state of autism science, and in 2012 in support of a bill to increase access to autism services for military families.
Honors, awards, and appointments
Dawson's honors and awards include the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), Tarheel of the Week (2014), 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.
She has been a long-standing 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. In 2013-2014, she served on the autism practice guidelines committee for the American Academy of Neurology. From 1998-1999, she served on the NIH Committee on Practice Parameters for Screening and Diagnosis of Autism. From 2001-2002, she was a member of the NIH Committee on Practice Parameters for Treatment of Autism. From 2003-2007, 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. 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, the NIH Studies to Accelerate Autism Research and Treatment Program, and the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence Program.
- Dawson, G., & Fischer, K. (1994). Human Behavior and the Developing Brain. New York: Guilford.
- Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G., & McPartland, J. (2002). A parent's guide to Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism: How to meet the challenges and help your child thrive. New York: Guilford Press. Translated into Japanese and Italian.
- Rogers, S.J. and Dawson, G. (2010) The Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism: Promoting Language, Learning, and Engagement. New York: The Guilford Press. Translated into Japanese, Italian, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Romanian, Korean, Polish, German, Russian, and Turkish.
- Rogers, S.J. and Dawson, G. (2010) The Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism: The Curriculum. New York: The Guilford Press. Translated into Japanese, Italian, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Romanian, Korean, Polish, German, Russian, and Turkish.
- Amaral, D., Dawson, G., and Geschwind, D. (2011) Autism Spectrum Disorders. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Rogers, S.J., Dawson G., and Vismara, L. (2012). An Early Start for your Child with Autism. New York: Guilford Press. Translated into Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Portuguese, French, Chinese, Lithuanian, and Russian. Awarded a 2012 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award – 1st place.
- Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G., & McPartland, J. (2014). A parent's guide to high-functioning autism spectrum disorder: How to meet the challenges and help your child thrive. New York: Guilford Press.
- 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., 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., Meltzoff, A., Osterling, J., & Rinaldi, J. (1998). Neuropsychological correlates of early autistic symptoms. Child Development, 69, 1247-1482.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Werner, E. & Dawson. G. (2005). Regression in autism: Validation of the phenomenon using home videotapes. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 889-895.
- Autism Genome Project Consortium (2007) Mapping autism risk loci using genetic linkage and chromosomal rearrangements. Nature Genetics, 39(3):319-28
- 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.
- Rogers, S.J., Estes, A., Lord, C. Vismara, L., Winter, J., Fitzpatrick, A., Guo, M., Dawson, G. (2012) Effects of a Brief Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)–Based Parent Intervention on Toddlers at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(10): 1052 -65.
- Dawson, G., Bernier, R., and Ring, RH. (2012). Social attention: A possible early indicator of efficacy in autism clinical trials. J. Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 4: 11.
- Dawson, G. and Bernier, R. (2013) A quarter century of progress on the early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorder. Development and Psychopathology.25: 1455-72.
- Dawson, G. (2016) Why it’s important to continue universal autism screening while research fully examines its impact. JAMA Pediatrics. 170(6): 527-8
- Jones, E.J.H., Venema, K., Earl, R., Lowy, R., Barnes, K., Estes, A., Dawson, G., and Webb, S.J. (2016). Reduced engagement with social stimuli in 6-month-old infants with later autism spectrum disorder: A longitudinal prospective study of infants at high familial risk. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders. 18: 8: 7.
- Dawson, G., Sun, J., Davlantis, K., Murias, M., Franz, L., Troy, J., Simmons, R., Sabatos-DeVito, M., Durham, R., and Kurtzberg, J. (2017) Autologous cord blood infusions are safe and feasible in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Results of a single center Phase I Open Label Trial. Stem Cells Translational Medicine. May; 6(5):1332-1339.
- Cidav Z, Munson J, Estes A, Knapp M, Buescher A, Dawson G, Mandell D. (2017). Cost evaluation of an early intervention program for children with autism. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 56(9); 777-783
- 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). "Raising 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 Quarterly.
- 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.
- Wallis, Claudia (November 30, 2009). "New evidence that therapy helps autistic kids". Time.
- 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.
- Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (February 22, 2008). "Newsmakers: Three Q's for Geraldine Dawson". Science.
- "Growing Up Different". PBS Scientific Frontiers with Alan Alda. 2001.
- Park, Alice. "Health & Family". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
- Park, Alice. "Behavior Therapy Normalizes Brains of Autistic Children". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
- Gravotta, Luciana (January 1, 2014). "New therapies take early aim at autism". Scientific American Mind.
- Reuters (August 5, 2009). "Today in Congress: Senate: Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee holds a hearing on Autism Research, Treatments, and Interventions". The Washington Post.