Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. is the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Pediatrics; and Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. Dawson is also Professor of Psychology Emerita at the University of Washington and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. She is past president of the International Society for Autism Research. Dawson serves as a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), which develops the federal strategic plan for autism research, services and policy. She is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist and scientist, having published more than 225 articles and 10 books on early detection and treatment of autism and brain development.
She obtained her doctoral degree in developmental and child clinical psychology from the University of Washington and completed a clinical internship at the University of California, Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute. From 2008 to 2013, Dawson was research professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as the first chief science officer for Autism Speaks, the largest autism science and advocacy organization, where she oversaw research funding aimed at a diverse portfolio from basic to applied science and advocated for state and federal policy and legislative efforts aimed at increasing autism research funding and improving access and quality of services for people with autism. From 1985 to 2008, Dawson was professor of psychology at the University of Washington. There, she was founding director of the University of Washington Autism Center, where she directed three consecutive interdisciplinary NIH Autism Center of Excellence research programs on genetics, neuroimaging, early diagnosis and treatment, and oversaw the University of Washington Autism Treatment Center, which provides interdisciplinary clinical services for individuals with autism from infancy through young adulthood.
Dawson’s research interests focus on the early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorder and the impact of intervention on the developing brain. Her early work led to the discovery that autism symptoms could be detected before one year of age, leading to a new field of research on infant diagnosis in young children with autism. Her laboratory pioneered the use of electrophysiological techniques to study brain function and development in very young children with autism. Through this work, she and her colleagues have characterized early emerging differences in brain activity associated with autism and developed electrophysiological biomarkers that predict the severity of clinical course. With her colleague Sally Rogers, Dawson developed and empirically validated the first comprehensive behavioral treatment for toddlers with autism, the Early Start Denver Model. The manual for this model has been published in 14 languages and is now being used by practitioners throughout the world to treat children with autism as young as 12 months of age. At Duke, Dawson is continuing her work on early detection, intervention and brain plasticity in autism, while venturing into new areas of research in neuroscience, genetics and technology through partnerships with Duke faculty in the School of Medicine, Pratt Engineering, and Arts and Sciences. She is currently exploring innovative methods for screening for autism in primary care, novel approaches for assessing outcomes in clinical trials, early predictors and treatment of anxiety in autism, automated behavioral coding of early symptoms, the use of music therapy to promote speech and the effectiveness of autologous and allogeneic cord blood for reducing symptoms in young children with autism.
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 and 2013. 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. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Society and American Psychological Association, and on editorial boards of four scientific journals. Her awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Psychological Science for outstanding contributions to the area of applied psychological research that addresses a critical problem in society at large, Autism Society of America Awards for Valuable Service and Research Contributions, Cure Autism Now Hero Award, and the Geoffrey Beene Rock Star of Science Award, among others. A strong advocate for families, Dawson has testified before the United States Congress three times to support autism legislation.