Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder

Geraldine Dawsona1 c1

a1 Autism Speaks


Advances in the fields of cognitive and affective developmental neuroscience, developmental psychopathology, neurobiology, genetics, and applied behavior analysis have contributed to a more optimistic outcome for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These advances have led to new methods for early detection and more effective treatments. For the first time, prevention of ASD is plausible. Prevention will entail detecting infants at risk before the full syndrome is present and implementing treatments designed to alter the course of early behavioral and brain development. This article describes a developmental model of risk, risk processes, symptom emergence, and adaptation in ASD that offers a framework for understanding early brain plasticity in ASD and its role in prevention of the disorder.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Geraldine Dawson, Autism Speaks, 1311 Lawrence Drive, Hillsborough, NC 27278; E-mail:


This article is dedicated to Eric Schopler (1927–2006), mentor, advocate, and pioneer. This work was funded by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U19HD34565, P50HD066782, and R01HD-55741) and the National Institute of Mental Health (U54MH066399). Grateful acknowledgment is given to Ted Beauchaine, Joe Piven, and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum for their feedback on this paper.