2012 James McKeen Cattell Fellow

Geraldine Dawson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Autism Speaks

Geraldine Dawson’s career reflects a stellar combination of basic research and translational science in the area of autism. Beginning with her research at the University of Washington and continuing in her current role as Scientific Director of Autism Speaks, Dawson has made groundbreaking advances in our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Dawson was a pioneer in bringing a biological perspective to the study of autism. Her initial studies utilized brain electrical activity to characterize the cognitive and affective processing abilities of infants and young children with the disorder. She has since completed studies using structural and functional brain imaging methods to understand basic neural processes that may be perturbed in individuals with autism, and her recent work has focused on the genetics of this complex disorder.

Dawson’s approach to the study of ASD is one that emphasizes the developmental nature of the disorder. Her careful studies of the building blocks of social interaction, including studies of the emergence of joint attention, and her novel approaches to identifying emergent behavioral symptoms of the disorder, such as her studies examining home videos of children’s first birthdays, have led to the current world-wide study of infant siblings of children with autism, in order to examine the unfolding processes involved in autism.

Dawson has been at the forefront in the development and application of intervention strategies for young children identified with ASD. Her translation of the basic science into effective early intervention for young children with autism has motivated widespread interest in early identification and intervention. Her scientific work has been truly transformative within the academic, policy, and public arenas.