When she was a graduate student in the late 1970s, APS Fellow Geraldine Dawson worked with a family that changed her life. They had an autistic child and “I was just captured by the experience and decided to devote my entire career to it,” Dawson told Autism Talk TV.
Today, Dawson is a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks. She is recognized as a pioneer in the study of autism who has used brain imaging to analyze neural irregularities associated with the disease. She has also studied the genetics of autism and helped to pinpoint some of the earliest symptoms of the disorder. Her work has been translated into early, effective interventions for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Dawson is excited about the way autism research is being used to improve people’s lives. The Autism Treatment Network, for example, helps doctors recognize common, treatable health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal problems that disproportionately affect people with autism.
More inclusive attitudes are also helping people with autism achieve more in their daily lives — and Dawson says that the people around them are benefiting, too. “Having kids with autism spectrum disorder in the classroom or in the workplace not only enriches the lives of the people with autism,” she says “but it’s enriching the lives of the people without autism who really get to understand the amazing diversity in humans and all the gifts that people with autism have to share.”