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MIND Institute gets new director

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Leonard Abbeduto, an internationally respected neurodevelopmental researcher, will lead the UC Davis MIND Institute as director.

Abbeduto comes to the MIND Institute from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was associate director of behavioral science, chair of the Department of Educational Psychology and director of the University Center on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

A visionary leader devoted to improving the lives of people with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families, he joins the MIND Institute and the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine as the Tsakopoulos-Vismara Endowed Chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences on Aug. 1.

"I am delighted that Leonard Abbeduto will lead the MIND Institute, an organization at the worldwide pinnacle of investigations of autism, fragile X, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders," said Claire Pomeroy, UC Davis vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine.

"The MIND Institute's leading-edge research provides great hope for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families throughout the world, and Dr. Abbeduto's skilled leadership will help guide the development of new insights and treatments," Pomeroy said.

Abbeduto is an expert in the behavioral development of individuals with intellectual disabilities and, in particular, their development and use of language. His research has focused on understanding the language and communication challenges of individuals with fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of intellectual disabilities and the leading single-gene cause of autism.

Abbeduto also conducts research on the effects of the stress that rearing children with neurodevelopmental disorders exerts on the emotional well-being of their parents and caregivers, and how parental stress affects the behavior and development of children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Abbeduto said he was attracted to the institute post in part because the center was founded by families concerned with the needs of children with autism. Five of those families - the Beneto, Gardner, Hayes, Rollens and Vismara families - have sons with the disorder.

"I feel extremely honored to have been selected to lead the MIND Institute," Abbeduto said. "I take very seriously the founding principles of the MIND Institute and its establishment by dedicated families of children with autism."

Abbeduto said that under his leadership, the MIND Institute will continue to advance cutting-edge research on neurodevelopmental disorders.

"My goal, first and foremost, is to extend the phenomenal, positive impact the MIND Institute has had on the lives of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families in Sacramento and around the world," he said.

Abbeduto said he will focus on expanding educational opportunities for the next generation of clinicians and researchers who will serve the growing population of individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Once a rare disorder, the prevalence of autism has grown to 1 in 110 nationwide today.

Abbeduto is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in psychology. He joined the faculty of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982 and served as its chair from 2000 to 2004.

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Emil H. Steiger Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Faculty Award from the University of Wisconsin's School of Education. He received the Enid and William Rosen Research Award from the National Fragile X Foundation in 2010 for outstanding contributions to understanding fragile X syndrome.

Abbeduto is the author of numerous research papers, books and book chapters and has made more than 100 presentations throughout the nation and the world.

Robert Hales, Joe P. Tupin Endowed Chair, professor of clinical psychiatry and chair of the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, served as interim director of the MIND Institute during the search for a director.

"I am very grateful to Robert Hales for spearheading the search for a permanent MIND Institute director and for his superb interim leadership and stewardship of the MIND Institute," Pomeroy said.

Hales said that he looks forward to working with Abbeduto and supports his approach to leading the institute.

"His focus on mentoring junior faculty and consensus-building demonstrate that he has the right stuff and will be an exceptional leader of the MIND Institute," Hales said.

Abbeduto's base salary will be $195,000 a year.

At the UC Davis MIND Institute, world-renowned scientists engage in research to find improved treatments as well as the causes and cures for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fragile X syndrome, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, pharmacology and the behavioral sciences are making inroads into a better understanding of brain function. The UC Davis MIND Institute draws from these and other disciplines to conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research. For more information, visit

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