Selected studies in the press:


Early Behavioral Intervention is Associated with Normalized Brain Activity in Young Children with Autism

Geraldine Dawson, Emily J.H. Jones, Kristen Merkle, Kaitlin Venema, Rachel Lowy, Susan Faja, Dana Kamara, Michael Murias, Jessica Greenson, Jamie Winter, Milani Smith, Sally J. Rogers, Sara J. Webb

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) autism behavioral intervention program was tested in a randomized clinical trial at the University of Washington.  The study enrolled 48 children, aged 18 to 30 months and diagnosed with autism, who either participated in routine community-based interventions or the Early Start Denver Model for about 20 hours each week over a period of two years.  The ESDM curriculum was delivered by trained interventionists who came to the child’s home.  The ESDM emphasizes social interactions and is designed for children as young as 12 months has been found to improve cognitive skills and brain responses to faces, considered a building block for social skills. A previous study (Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. 2010. Pediatrics.) found that the ESDM intervention improved IQ, language, and adaptive skills and the researchers wanted to know if the approach also led to brain changes.

    After two years of treatment, the brain function of the participants - now about four to five years old - was measured with electroencephalography while the youngsters viewed social stimuli, such as faces, and nonsocial stimuli, such as toys. The researchers found that the intervention also changed brain function. First, children in both intervention groups showed similar brain responses to pictures of faces as did children in a control group who did not have autism, suggesting that the high level of intervention in both groups allowed the children with autism to catch up to the children in the control group.  Second, looking at a higher level of brain processing, the researchers found that the ESDM group also showed changes in brain processes related to attention and cognitive engagement.  The authors concluded, that the ESDM intervention resulted in greater attention and cognitive brain activity - a pattern more similar to the typical developing group of children.

The Broader Autism Phenotype in Simplex and Multiplex Families

Jennifer Gerdts, Raphael Bernier, Geraldine Dawson, Annette Estes

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, November 2012

Findings from a study at the University of Washington Autism Center examining social communication skills and patterns of behavior and interest in parents and siblings of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was published in the Journal of  Autism and Developmental Disorders.  Parents and siblings from two family-types were compared: families containing more than one child with ASD (called "multiplex") and families with one child with ASD (called "simplex"). The multiplex families originated from the Family Study of Autism and the simplex families were recruited from the Simons Simplex Collection, both conducted at the University of Washington Autism Center.  Mothers, fathers, and siblings from 87 multiplex and 41 simplex families were assessed using the Broader Phenotype Autism Symptom Scale (BPASS).  The BPASS is an interview combining information from self- or parent-report and observational ratings from clinicians.  Relatives from simplex families showed more social interest and were more expressive in their use of nonverbal communication compared to multiplex families. Conversational skills were also improved in fathers and siblings from simplex families compared to fathers and siblings from multiplex families.  Siblings from simplex families showed significantly lower rigidity and intense interests compared siblings from multiplex families. The decreased number and intensity of broader autism phenotype traits observed in parents and siblings within simplex families provide behavioral evidence consistent with findings of increased non-inherited genetic events in simplex compared to multiplex families.