Connections - Fall 2020

A Message from the Director

This year has been difficult in so many ways, and it has required many of us to adjust nearly every aspect of our daily lives. This I why I’m especially glad to welcome this season of gratitude. More than ever, this year, I am profoundly grateful for our research participants, our patients, our partners, our university leaders, and our funders. It is because of the generosity and dedication of so many that we at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development are able to accomplish all we do.

I am excited to share our 2020 Impact Report. Despite the pandemic, our research studies and clinical services have continued, including telehealth evaluations and virtual interventions. In this issue of Connections, we spotlight our recently published research findings that show children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) use medical services in a different way even during the first year of life, suggesting a potential new way to identify these conditions early. Also in this issue, we announce our Holiday Greetings Art Gallery & Contest, introduce our newest family resource, the Duke Center for Autism Travel Toolkit, and share dates for our upcoming special events.

From all of us at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, we wish you and your family joy, comfort, and peace during this holiday season.

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
Director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development

2020 Impact Report Spotlights Stories from a Pivotal Year

We expected 2020 to be an eventful year at the Duke Center for Autism, and it did not disappoint. In a year of ambitious plans and surprising changes, our team found creative ways to continue our research, clinical services, education and training programs, and community connections. Explore our impact here. 

Thanks to all who supported the Duke Center for Autism and Duke ADHD Program teams during this year’s Autism Society of North Carolina “Triangle Run/Walk for Autism” and the “Triangle Autism Speaks Walk.” The teams raised nearly $9,000 combined through the two virtual events, which support these two nonprofit organizations providing services to those affected by autism.


Could Hospital Visit Records Help Doctors Spot ADHD or Autism Early?

Children who are later diagnosed with autism and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) visit doctors and hospitals more often in their first year of life than non-affected children, suggesting a potential new way to identify the conditions early. The findings from Duke Health researchers, including investigators with the Duke Center for Autism, appeared online Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports. The study provides evidence that health care utilization patterns in a baby’s first year can be gleaned from electronic medical records, serving as a roadmap to provide timely diagnoses and treatments that could improve outcomes and reduce health care costs. Read more about the study.

Autism Biomarkers Could Accelerate Treatment and Testing

In collaboration with investigators at Yale, Harvard, UCLA, and the University of Washington, researchers at the Duke Center for Autism are conducting the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials (ABC-CT), a longitudinal study of school age children with autism funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study will establish replicable and quantifiable indices, or “biomarkers,” that can be used to track improve­ments in brain function and attention that are related to clinical improvement. The hope is that these biomarkers – which are based on electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings and eye-tracking measures – will make it easier to determine whether a treatment is working and might make it possible to identify those people most likely to benefit from a particular treatment. Read the 2020 Impact Report story here.

The N170 measures how quickly the brain recognizes that a stimulus is a face rather than an object. The N170 is largest when someone is looking at a face (a) as shown by the middle wave form (b). (c) shows how the brain activity is distributed across the scalp. The N170 is typically slower in individuals with ASD.



Linmarie Sikich, M.D., Named AACAP Rieger Service Program Award Recipient

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has awarded Duke Center for Autism Associate Director Linmarie Sikich, M.D., its 2020 Reiger Service Program award, in recognition of her published paper, “Integrated Pediatric Program Health Model.” Dr. Sikich is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a principal investigator for the Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) A+ Study, which provides children diagnosed with both autism and ADHD free behavioral interventions based on the Early Start Denver Model. Get more information about our Duke A+ Study here.

Using Telehealth to Transform Clinical Care

With in-person collaboration impossible in the pandemic environment, Duke Center for Autism clinicians continued regularly consulting with each other to deliver excellent patient care via telehealth and to ensure continuation of critical research studies. Read more about how the Duke Autism Clinic has used telehealth to transform clinical care during the pandemic in our 2020 Impact Report. 



Clinicians Create Holiday Travel Toolkit

When traveling with a neurodiverse child or individual, it's essential to plan ahead and be ready with some useful tools along the way. Caregivers can help make the trip as enjoyable as possible for the whole family by creating and using a travel "tool kit" to ease planning and preparation, and support the sensory needs of neurodiverse children. Clinicians at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Tara Chandrasekhar, M.D., Rachel Aiello, Ph.D., Marika Coffman, Ph.D., and Carla Wall, M.S., have created a Holiday Travel Toolkit with information, resources, and sample tools. Also on our website, read NC State University student Julia Young’s UX Design & Research Project, in which she shares her prototype a backpack for young children with autism. Ms. Young met with Duke Center for Autism Psychologist Elena Tenenbaum, Ph.D., who gave her a tour of the center and provided background information on autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
New Episode!  Dr. Scott & Dr. Lauren’s Tips for Families Living with COVID, ADHD & ASD –“Adult & Child Sleep & Self-care” now – Join Duke ADHD Program Director Scott Kollins, Ph.D., and Duke Autism Center of Excellence researcher and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Lauren Franz, MBChB, MPH, as they share another installment of their popular, 20-minute video series providing advice on structure, home learning, and self-care.  Watch all the videos in the series here


Center for Autism Holiday Greeting Art Gallery & Contest - We invite artists on the autism spectrum and their family members to participate in the Duke Center for Autism 2020 Holiday Greeting Art Gallery & Contest. Submitted artwork will be featured online in the Duke Center for Autism Holiday Art Gallery. One artist’s work will be selected to illustrate our digital holiday greeting card! All ages and talent levels are welcomed! Get all the details here. Submission deadline is December 15th. If you have any questions, please contact
Music 2 the Max! 2020 - Back by popular demand! Join Duke Musician in Residence and Semans/Byrd Performing Arts Coordinator William Dawson for free music and learning experiences for children. Check out all three Music 2 the Max episodes here! Register for our "Good-bye Sing-along," Nov. 30th or Save your spot for a One-on-One Zoom with Music 2 the Max Leader Mr. William here!
2020-2021 Autism Speaker Series - Interested in learning more about the science of autism? Join us for monthly, free virtual sessions with leading investigators, clinicians, and practitioners impacting autism research, interventions, and treatments. Registration required. Dec. 2nd features Fred Shic, PhD,"Visual Attention in ASD: Explorations Across Development."

Save the Date for our 2021 Autism Awareness Month Speaker - Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

A global self-advocate, educator, and parent on the autism spectrum, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu will join us on April 7, 2021. Ms. Onaiwu is the editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams, an anthology of art and writing contributed entirely by autistic people of color. Registration will be required. Follow us on social media and watch the next issue of Connections for the registration link.


The Duke Center for Autism is tremendously grateful for our partnerships with the greater autism community. Every gift makes a difference in furthering our mission to provide compassionate care and improve lives. If you would like to support us on Giving Tuesday - Dec. 1st, please visit