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2018 Pioneer: Geraldine Dawson

Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, has spent her career spearheading research on autism spectrum disorder.

Her work focuses on the early detection and treatment of autism and the impact of interventions on the developing brain. Early on, she discovered that autism symptoms could be detected before the age of one, which has opened up a new field of research on infant diagnosis. 

Some of her key contributions include revolutionizing the use of electrophysiological techniques in studying cognitive function in young children with autism and demonstrating the link between maternal depression and infants' early brain activity and stress responses. She also helped develop the Early Start Denver Model, the first comprehensive behavioral intervention for toddlers with autism. 

At Duke, Dawson has continued to explore early detection, intervention and brain plasticity through partnerships with faculty across campus.

Beyond her research pursuits, Dawson is president of the International Society for Autism Research and serves as a member of the NIH Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.

Dawson has published more than 225 articles and 10 books focused on the early detection and treatment of autism as well as brain development. She served as the first chief science officer of Autism Speaks—an advocacy organization—where she oversaw nearly $30 million in annual research funding. She is a past president of the International Society for Autism Research

Editor's note: This profile is part of our new initiative called The Chronicle 18. We are highlighting 18 people and groups who are defining what it means to be at Duke this year. Read about the project and more of our selections.


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