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Elisabeth Dykens

Professor of Psychology and Human Development
Professor of Psychiatry
Professor of Pediatrics
Director and Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Elisabeth M. Dykens, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology,

Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, and Co-Director for the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Her research examines psychopathology and areas of strength in persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially those with genetic syndromes. Her studies focus on the development and correlates of psychopathology and behavioral problems in Prader-Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, and Down syndrome. These include marked obsessive-compulsive behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome, heightened anxiety in Williams syndrome, and increased withdrawal and depression in Down syndrome. Dykens also examines profiles of neurocognitive and adaptive strengths and weaknesses in these disorders, and how these unusual profiles refine treatment and shed light on normal development.

Current studies include: (1) physiological and neurological mechanisms of compulsive behavior in persons with Prader-Willi syndrome; (2) visual-spatial strengths in persons with Prader-Willi syndrome; (3) relations between musical strengths and anxiety in persons with Williams syndrome; (4) the trajectory of adaptive skills and maladaptive behaviors in syndromes, including in older adults; (5) families of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including stress, coping, and positive outcomes for family members; and (6) contributions from positive psychology to research and intervention in intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Representative Publications

  • Selected Recent Papers:
  • Dykens, E.M., Shah, B., Davis, B., Baker, C., Fife, T. & Fitzpatrick, J. (2015). Psychiatric disorders in adolescents and young adults with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  • Dykens, EM (In press). Family adjustment and interventions in neurodevelopmental disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry.

  • Fisher MH, Mello MP, Dykens EM (2014). Who reports it best? A comparison between parent-report, self-report, and the real life social behaviors of adults with Williams syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities 35, 3276–3284.
  • Dykens, E.M., Fisher, M.H., Taylor, J.L., Lambert, W. & Miodrag, N. (2014). Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 134 (2), e454-2463. 

  • Lense, M.D., Dankner, N., Pryweller, J., Thornton-Wells, T. & Dykens E.M. (2014). Neural Correlates of Amusia in Williams Syndrome. Brain sciences 4(4):594-612. DOI: 10.3390/brainsci4040594

  • Lense, M.D. & Dykens, E.M. (2013). Cortisol reactivity and performance abilities in social situations in adults with Williams syndrome. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 57, 850-860. 

  • Dykens, E.M. (2014). Leisure activities in Prader-Wlli syndrome: Implications for health, cognition and adaptive functioning. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 294-302. 

  • Miller, J. L. Day, T. & Dykens, E.M. (2014). Effects of metformin on food behaviors in children and adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome and early-onset morbid obesity: A pilot study. Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, 27, 23-29. 

  • Key, A.P. & Dykens, E.M. (2014). ERP index of age-related differences in memory processes in adults with Down syndrome. Neurobiology of Aging, 35, 247-253.

  • Dankner, N. & Dykens, E.M. (2012). Anxiety in intellectual disabilities: Challenges and next steps. International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities, 42, 57-83. 

  • Hodapp, R.M. & Dykens, E.M. (2012). Genetic disorders of intellectual disability: Expanding our concepts of phenotypes and of family outcomes. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 21, 761-769.

  • Pryweller, J.R., Avery, S., Blackford, J.U., Dykens, E.M. & Thornton-Wells, T.A. (2012). The effect of intellectual disability on functional activation in a neurodevelopmental disorder: Preliminary evidence from multiple studies in Williams syndrome. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 24.

  • Lense, M.D. & Dykens, E.M. (2013). Music learning in children and adults with Williams syndrome. Journal of intellectual Disability Research, 57, 850-860. 

  • Dykens, E.M. & Lambert, W. (2013). Trajectories of diurnal cortisol in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: Relations to health and mental health. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 2426-2434. 

  • Key, A.P, Jones, D. & Dykens, E.M (2013). Social and emotional processing in Prader-Willi syndrome: Genetic subtype differences. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 5, 7.

  • Lense, M.D., Gordon, R.L., Key, A.P., & Dykens, E.M. (2013). Neural correlates of cross-modal affective priming by music in Williams syndrome. Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, published first online, DOI:10.1093/scan/nst017. 

  • Miodrag, N., Lense, M.D., & Dykens, E.M. (2013). A pilot study of a mindfulness intervention for individuals with Williams syndrome: Physiological outcomes. Mindfulness, published first online, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0178-2. 

  • Lense, M.D., Tomarken, A.J., & Dykens, E.M. (2013). Diurnal cortisol profile in Williams syndrome in novel and familiar settings. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 118, 201-209. 

  • Dykens, E.M. (2013). Aging in rare intellectual disability syndromes. Developmental Disability Research Reviews, 18. 75-83. 

  • Lense, M.D., Shivers, C.M & Dykens, E.M. (2013). (A)Musicality in Williams syndrome: Examining relationships among auditory perception, music skills and emotional responsiveness to music. Frontiers in Psychology, 4:525.

  • Dykens, E.M., Roof, E., Bittel, D. & Butler, M.G. (2011). TPH2 G/T polymorphism is associated with hyperphagia, IQ, and internalizing problems in Prader-Willi syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52, 580-587.

  •  Dykens, E.M., Cassidy, S.B. & DeVries, M. (2011). Prader-Willi syndrome. In S. Goldstein & C.R. Reynolds (Eds.), Handbook of neurodevelopmental and genetic disorders in children (2nd ed.) (pp. 484-511). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press. 

  • Miller, J.L., Lynn, C., Driscoll, D.C., Goldstone, A.P., Kimonis, V., Dykens, E.M., Butler, M.G., Shuster, J., & Driscoll, D.J. (2011). Nutritional phases in Prader-Willi syndrome. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 155A, 1040-1049. 

  • Key, A.P.F. & Dykens, E.M. (2011). Electrophysiological study of local/global processing in Williams syndrome. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders. 3, 28-38. 

  • Dykens, E.M., Lee, E.B. & Roof, E. (2011). Prader-Willi syndrome and autism spectrum disorders: An evolving story. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 3, 225-237. 

  • Burke, M. M., Griggs, M., Dykens, E. M. & Hodapp, R. M. (2011), Defendants with intellectual disabilities and mental health diagnoses: faring in a mental health court. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2788.2011.01422.x 

  • Arlinghaus, L.R., Thornton-Wells, T.A., Dykens, E.M., & Anderson, A.W. (2011). Alterations in diffusion properties of white matter in Williams syndrome. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 29, 1165-1174. 

  • Lense, M.D., Key, A. P.F. & Dykens, E.M. (2011). Attentional disengagement in adults with Williams syndrome. Brain and Cognition 77, 201–207. 

  • Dykens, E.M., & Lense, (2011). Intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder: A cautionary note. In D. Amaral, G. Dawson, & D. Geschind (Eds). Autism Spectrum Disorders. (pp. 263-270). Oxford University Press.

  • Lense, M.D., & Dykens, E.M. (2011). Musical interests and abilities in individuals with developmental disabilities. International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities, 41, 265-312.

  • Selected Earlier Papers:

  • Dykens, E.M., & Roof, E.  (2008).  Behavior in Prader-Willi syndrome: Relationship to genetic subtypes and age.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 1001-1008.

  • Dykens, E.M., Maxwell, M., Pantino, E., Kossler, R., & Roof, E. (2007). Assessment of hyperphagia in Prader-Willi syndrome. Obesity, 15, 1816-1826. 

  • Sellinger, M.H., Hodapp, R.M., & Dykens, E.M. (2008). Child abuse among children with disabilities: What we know and what we need to know. International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, 35, 251-289.

  • Dykens, E.M.  (2006). Toward a positive psychology of mental retardation.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 185-193. 

  • Dykens, E.M.  (2003).  Anxiety, fears, and phobias in persons with Williams  syndrome. Developmental Neuropsychology, 23, 291-316.

  • Dykens, E.M.  (2000).  Psychopathology in children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 407-417.

  • Dykens, E.M., Hodapp, R.M., & Finucane, B.M. (2000). Genetics and Mental Retardation Syndromes: A New Look at Behavior and Intervention. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.


Association of University Centers on Disabilities Outstanding Achievement Award 2011

American Association in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities research Award 2012

National Association on Dual Diagnosis Research Award 2014

Special Olympics International Board of Directors 

University School of Nashville Board of Trustees