Geraldine Dawson, PhD

William Cleland Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development

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Geraldine Dawson is the William Cleland Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, where she also is Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology & Neuroscience. Dawson is the Director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences whose mission is to promote interdisciplinary brain science and translate discoveries into solutions for health and society.  Dawson also is Director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, an NIH Autism Center of Excellence, which is an interdisciplinary research program and clinic, aimed to improve the lives of those with autism through research, education, clinical services, and policy.  Dawson is Associate Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures which aims to discover cellular treatments that can improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals with autism.  Dawson received a Ph.D. in Developmental and Child Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington and completed a clinical internship at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Dawson is a highly-cited (Google Scholar h-index = 123) clinical psychologist and neuroscientist, having published >300 articles and 12 books on early detection and treatment of autism and brain development. Using electrophysiological techniques, Dawson's lab discovered differences in brain circuitry related to face processing in autism, apparent even before symptom onset, and later defined a lifelong brain characteristic (delayed N170 face-sensitive ERP) that was accepted as the first biomarker for a neurodevelopmental disorder into FDA's Biomarker Qualification Program. Dawson's pioneering studies were among the first to describe the emergence of autism symptoms during infancy, leading to new screening tools. Dawson co-created the Early Start Denver Model, an early autism intervention shown to improve behavioral outcomes, which has been translated into 17 languages and is used worldwide. Her work showed for the first time that early intervention can normalize aspects of brain activity in children with autism, changing the field's view of brain plasticity in autism, a finding recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2012. Dawson previously served as President of the International Society for Autism Research and is currently a member of the NIH Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) which develops the federal strategic plan for autism research, services, and policy. Dawson was Founding Director of the University of Washington (UW) Autism Center and the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, both highly regarded interdisciplinary autism centers. She served as Director/PI of 5 NIH P50 Autism Centers of Excellence Programs (4 at UW, 1 at Duke). From 2008-2013, Dawson served as the first Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization, where she oversaw $25-30 million of annual research funding. From 1985-2008, Dawson was Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. A strong advocate for persons with autism, Dawson has testified a number of times before the US Congress in support of major autism legislation and was appointed by the U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services for two terms to the DHHS IACC.

Dawson was awarded the American Psychological Association Distinguished Career Award (Div53); Association for Psychological Science Lifetime Achievement Award; Clarivate Top 1% Cited Researcher Across All Scientific Fields; NIH Top Research Advances of the Year Award (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018); Autism Society of America Award for Research Contributions; Autism Society Medical Professional of the Year; and Autism Society Award for Valuable Service. Dawson is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society and American Psychological Association, and is Associate Editor or on editorial boards of four scientific journals.

At Duke, Dr. 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.

Representative Publications


1. Bernier, R.A., Dawson, G., and Nigg, J.T. (2019).  What Science Tells Us About Autism Spectrum Disorder: Making the Right Choices for Your Child.  New York: The Guilford Press.

2.   Vivanti, G., Duncan, E., Dawson, G., and Rogers, SJ.  (2016). Implementing the Group-based Early Start Denver Model for Preschoolers with Autism.  New York:  Springer Publishing. Translated into Italian.

3. Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G., and McPartland, J. (2014) A Parent’s Guide to High-functioning Autism:  How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive: Second Edition.  New York: Guilford Press. Translated into Korean, Chinese. (Healthline Best Autism Books of 2017)

4.   Rogers, S.J., Dawson G., and Vismara, L. (2012).  An Early Start for your Child with Autism.   New York:  Guilford Press. Awarded a 2012 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award – 1st place. Translated into Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Portuguese, French, Chinese (2), Lithuanian, Russian, Greek, and Vietnamese. (Healthline Best Autism Books of 2017)

5. Amaral, D., Dawson, G., and Geschwind, D. (2011) Autism Spectrum Disorders.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

6. 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, Portugese, Chinese (2), Arabic, Romanian, Korean, Polish, German, Russian, Vietnamese, and Turkish.

7. 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, Portugese, Chinese (2), Arabic, Romanian, Korean, Polish, German, Russian, Vietnamese, and Turkish. Also available as an audiobook.

Journal articles

  1. Dawson G, and Sapiro, G. Potential for digital behavioral measurement tools to transform the detection and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019; 
  2. Rogers SJ, Estes A, Lord C, Munson J, Rocha M, Winter J, Greenson J, Colombi C, Dawson G, Vismara L, Sugar C, Hellemann G, Whelan F, and Talbott M. (2019). A Multisite Randomized Controlled Two-Phase Trial of the Early Start Denver Model Compared to Treatment as Usual. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2019 58(9):853-865. 
  3. Carpenter, K., Major, S., Tallman, C., Chen, LW., Franz, L., Sun, J., Kurtzberg, J., Song, A., and Dawson, G. (2019).  White matter tract changes with clinical improvement in an open-label trial assessing autologous umbilical cord blood for treatment of young children with autism. Stem Cells Translational Medicine, Feb;8(2):138-147. 
  4. Murias M, Major S, Compton S, Buttinger J, Sun JM, Kurtzberg J, Dawson G. (2018). Electrophysiological biomarkers predict clinical improvement in an open-label trial assessing efficacy of autologous umbilical cord blood for treatment of autism.  Stem Cells Translational Medicine. 2018; 7:783–791. 
  5. Campbell K, Carpenter KL, Hashemi J, Espinosa S, Marsan S, Borg JS, Chang Z, Qiu Q, Vermeer S, Adler E, Tepper M, Egger HL, Baker JP, Sapiro G, Dawson G. Computer vision analysis captures atypical attention in toddlers with autism. Autism. 2018:1362361318766247.
  6. Egger HL, Dawson G., Hashemi J, Carpenter K, Espinosa S, Campbell K, Espinosa, S., Campbell, K., Brotkin S, Shaich-Borg J, Qiu Q, Tepper M, Baker J, Bloomfield R, and Sapiro G. (2018). Automatic Emotion and Attention Analysis of Young Children at Home: A ResearchKit Autism Feasibility Study. npg Digital Medicine. (2018) 1:20; 
  7. Dawson G, Campbell K, Hashemi J, Lippmann SJ, Smith V, Carpenter K, Egger H, Espinosa S, Vermeer S, Baker J, Sapiro G. Atypical postural control can be detected via computer vision analysis in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Scientific Reports. 2018;8(1):17008. 
  8. 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. 
  9. Dawson G, Carver L, Meltzoff AN, Panagiotides H, McPartland J, Webb SJ. Neural correlates of face and object recognition in young children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and typical development. Child Dev. 2002 May-Jun; 73(3):700-17. 
  10. Dawson G, Toth K, Abbott R, Osterling J, Munson J, Estes A, Liaw J. Early social attention impairments in autism: social orienting, joint attention, and attention to distress. Dev Psychol. 2004 Mar; 40(2):271-83. 
  11. Dawson G, Webb SJ, Carver L, Panagiotides H, McPartland J. Young children with autism show atypical brain responses to fearful versus neutral facial expressions of emotion. Dev Sci. 2004 Jun; 7 (3):340-59. 
  12. Dawson G, Webb SJ, McPartland J. Understanding the nature of face processing impairment in autism: insights from behavioral and electrophysiological studies. Dev Neuropsychol. 2005; 27(3):403-24. PMID: 15843104 
  13. Dawson G, Rogers S, Munson J, Smith M, Winter J, Greenson J, Donaldson A, Varley J. Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics. 2010 Jan; 125(1):e17-23. 
  14. Webb SJ, Jones EJ, Kelly J, Dawson G. The motivation for very early intervention for infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorders. Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2014 Feb; 16(1):36-42.
  15. Estes A, Munson J, Rogers SJ, Greenson J, Winter J, Dawson G. Long-term outcomes of early intervention in 6-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Jul; 54(7):580-7. 
  16. Jones, EJ, Venema, K., Earl, R., Lowy, R., Barnes, K., Estes, A, Dawson, G., and Webb, SJ. 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. J Neurodev Disord. 2016; 15(8) 7. 
  17. Jones EJ, Dawson G, Kelly J, Estes A, Webb S. (2017). Parent-delivered early intervention in infants at risk for ASD: Effects on electrophysiological and habituation measures of social attention. Autism Research.  10(5):961-972. 
  18. Dawson G, Jones EJ, Merkle K, Venema K, Lowy R, Faja S, Kamara D, Murias M, Greenson J, Winter J, Smith M, Rogers SJ, Webb SJ. Early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized brain activity in young children with autism. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Nov; 51(11):1150-9. 
  19. Dawson G. Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder. Dev Psychopathol. 2008 Summer; 20(3):775-803. 
  20. Murias M, Webb SJ, Greenson J, Dawson G. Resting state cortical connectivity reflected in EEG coherence in autism. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Aug 1; 62(3):270-3. 
  21. Dawson G, Ashman SB, Panagiotides H, Hessl D, Self J, Yamada E, Embry L. Preschool outcomes of children of depressed mothers: role of maternal behavior, contextual risk, and children's brain activity. Child Dev. 2003 Jul-Aug; 74(4):1158-75. 
  22. Dawson G, Meltzoff AN, Osterling J, Rinaldi J, Brown E. Children with autism fail to orient to naturally occurring social stimuli. J Autism Dev Disord. 1998 Dec; 28(6):479-85. 
  23. Osterling, J, & Dawson, G. Early recognition of children with autism:  A study of first birthday home videotapes. J Autism Dev Disord. 1994; 24:247-57.