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Jeanne Townsend, Ph.D.

Director, Research on Autism and Development Lab

Jeanne earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego/San Diego State University in 1992 and joined the Department of Neurosciences as a Postdoctoral Fellow in that year. She has a secondary appointment as Adjunct Professor in the UCSD Department of Cognitive Science and serves as faculty in the UCSD/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Communicative Disorders, the UCSD Stein Institute for Research on Aging, the UCSD/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, and the UCSD Center for Human Development/Human Development Program. She also serves on the advisory board for a newly funded Innovative Research Hub (Roles of Emotion and Choice for Learning, REaCh for Learning, Research Hub).

Jeanne directs the Research on Autism and Development Laboratory. She is a Clinical Neuropsychologist and Cognitive Neuroscientist whose focus is on the identification of brain structural and functional correlates of cognitive function, particularly dynamic attentional processes, and developmental changes in these relationships.

Jeanne has studied Autism Spectrum Disorders for more than two decades with a primary interest in abnormalities of attentional function in autism and the influence of attention deficits on the development of the behavioral symptoms of autism such as disordered language and social communication.

Her studies employ a variety of methods and techniques, including neuropsychological and behavioral testing, neurophysiological recordings (EEG, ERP), eye-tracking and structural and functional MR imaging. She has studied selective and shifting attention and the underlying brain networks in both normal and abnormal function for more than two decades, and has received NIH funding to conduct large studies of attentional function in autism, in other developmental disorders and in healthy aging.

Jeanne's EEG studies of visual attention have highlighted abnormal attentional distribution in autism. Her EEG and fMRI studies of shifting attention between auditory and visual modalities have demonstrated difficulties manipulating attention in autism, a reduced ability to filter distracting information associated with normal aging, and individual differences in these skills in normal healthy young adults.

Current work by Jeanne and her colleagues examines motor function (including eye movement) in autism and the interaction of motor behavior and attention. Her work is increasingly focused on translation of research findings to treatment approaches. Problems with motor function are prominent in autism, and along with visual attention abnormalities are among the only clinical symptoms of autism that can be observed in the first six months of life.

While motor problems can clearly affect daily function, they may also affect social function and may contribute to difficulty acquiring social skills during early childhood. In addition, data showing the tightly-bound interaction of attention and motor function suggest that compromised motor function requires increased attention, leaving fewer resources available for processing environmental stimuli and learning. This knowledge suggests that the motor system—which is known to be readily trainable—may be a gateway to improving outcomes for individuals living with ASD.

  1. Keehn, B., Mueller, RA & Townsend, J. (2013). Atypical Attentional Networks and the Emergence of Autism. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37 (2), 164-183. PMID:23206665 (PMC Method D Journal, In Process).
  2. Rapela, J., T. Y. Lin, Westerfield, M., Jung, T. P., Townsend, J. (2012). Assisting autistic children with wireless EOG technology. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc 2012: 3504-3506.
  3. Keehn, B., Shih, P. Brenner, L., Townsend, J. & Mueller, RA. (2012). Functional Connectivity for an “Island of Sparing” in Autism Spectrum Disorder: An fMRI Study of Visual Search. Human Brain Mapping. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22084 [Epub ahead of print] PMID:22495745
  4. Lewis,J.D., Theilmann, R.J., Fonov, V., Bellec, P., Lincoln, A. , Evans, A.C. and Townsend, J. (2012). Callosal fiber length and interhemispheric connectivity in adults with autism: Brain overgrowth and underconnectivity. Human Brain Mapping. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:22359385
  5. Townsend, J., Keehn, B., Westerfield, M. (2011). Abstraction of Mind: Attention in autism. In, Michael Posner, Ed., Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention. New York: Guilford Press.
  6. Townsend, J., Westerfield, M. (2010). Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective. In, Carol Armstrong and L. Morrow, Eds., Handbook of Medical Neuropsychology. New York: Springer Science: 165-191.
  7. Keehn, B., Lincoln, A.J., Muller, R.A., Townsend, J. (2010). Attentional Networks in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(11), 1251-1259. PMCID: PMC3145814
  8. Čeponienė, R., Cummings, A, Wulfeck, B., Ballantyne, A., Townsend, J. (2009). Spectral vs. temporal auditory processing in Specific Language Impairment: A developmental ERP study. Brain and Language, 110 (3), 107-120. PMCID: 2731814
  9. McCleery, J., Čeponienė, R., Burner, K., Townsend, J., Kinnear, M., Schreibman, L. (2010). Neural correlates of verbal and non-verbal semantic integration in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 51(3), 277-286. PMID: 20025622
  10. Lewis, J.D., Theilmann. R.J., Sereno, M.I., Townsend, J. (2009). The relationship between brain size and interhemispheric connectivity in young adults: A DTI analysis. Cerebral Cortex, 19(3), 554-562. PMCID: 2638815
  11. Čeponienė, R., Westerfield, M., Torki, M, Townsend, J. (2008). Modality-specificity of sensory aging in vision and audition: evidence from event-related potentials. Brain Research, 1215, 53-68. PMID: 18482717
  12. Cummings, A, Čeponienė, R., Dick, F., Saygin, A., Townsend, J. (2008). A developmental ERP study of verbal and non-verbal semantic processing. Brain Research, 1208, 137-149. PMCID: 2423212
  13. Čeponienė, R., Torki, M., Alku, P., Koyama, A., Townsend, J. (2008). Event-related potentials reflect spectral differences in speech and non-speech stimuli in children and adults. Clinical Neurophysiology, 119, 1560-1577. PMCID: 2444016
  14. Cummings, A, Čeponienė, R., Koyama, A., Saygin, A., Townsend, J., Dick, F. (2006). Auditory semantic networks for words and natural sounds. Brain Research, 1115, 92-107.
  15. Onton, J., Westerfield, M, Townsend, J., Makeig, S. (2006). Interpreting EEG dynamics using independent component analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 30, 808-822.
  16. Townsend, J. Adamo, M., Haist, F. (2006). Changing channels: An FMRI study of aging and cross-modal attention shifts. Neuroimage, 31, 1682-1692.
  17. Čeponienė, R., Alku, P., Westerfield, M., Torki, M., Townsend, J. (2005). Event-related potentials differentiate syllable and non-phonetic correlate processing in children and adults. Psychophysiology, 42, 391-406.
  18. Haist, F., Adamo, M., Westerfield, M., Courchesne, E., Townsend, J. (2005). The functional neuroanatomy of spatial attention in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27(3), 425-458.
  19. Makeig S, Delorme A, Westerfield M, Jung T-P, Townsend J, et al. (2004) Electroencephalographic Brain Dynamics Following Manually Responded Visual Targets. PLoS Biol 2(6): e176. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020176
  20. Akshoomoff, N, Courchesne, E, Lord, C, Lincoln, AJ, Courchesne, RY, Carper, RA, Townsend, J. (2004). Identification of a neuroanatomical profile in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders. The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(3), 349-357.
  21. Schul, R., Stiles, J., Wulfeck, B., and Townsend, J. (2004). How ‘generalized’ is the ‘slowed processing’ in SLI?: The case of visuospatial attentional orienting. Neuropsychologia, 42, 661-671.
  22. Makeig, S, Westerfield, M, Jung, T-P, Enghoff, S, Townsend, J, Courchesne, E, Sejnowski, TJ. (2002). Brain dynamic sources of visual evoked responses. Science, 295(5555), 690-694.
  23. Jung, T-P., Makeig, S., Westerfield, M., Townsend, J., Courchesne, E. & Sejnowski, TJ. Analysis and visualization of single-trial event-related potentials. (2001). Human Brain Mapping, 14, 166-185.
  24. Townsend, J., Westerfield, M., Leaver, E., Makeig, S., Jung, T-P., Pierce, K. & Courchesne, E. (2001). Event-related brain response abnormalities in autism: Evidence for impaired cerebello-frontal spatial attention networks. Cognitive Brain Research, 11(1), 127-145.
  25. Schul, R., Townsend, J. & Stiles, J. (2003). The development of attention orienting during the school-age years. Developmental Science, 6(3), 262-272.
  26. Juul-Dam, N., Townsend, J. & Courchesne, E. (2001). Pre-, peri- and neonatal factors in autism, PDD-NOS, and the general population. Pediatrics, 107(4), e63.
  27. Townsend, J., Courchesne, E., Covington, J., Westerfield, M.,Harris, N.S., Lyden, P., Lowry, T.P. & Press, G. (1999). Spatial attention deficits in patients with acquired or developmental cerebellar abnormality. Journal of Neuroscience, 19(13), 5632-5643.
  28. Makeig, S., Westerfield, M., Tzyy-Ping, J., Covington, J., Townsend, J., Sejnowski, T.J. & Courchesne, E. (1999). Functionally independent components of the late positive event-related potential during visual spatial attention. Journal of Neuroscience, 19(7), 2665-2680.
  29. Jung, T-P, Makeig, S., Westerfield, M., Townsend, J., Courchesne, E. and Sejnowski, TJ. (2000). Removal of eye activity artifacts from visual event-related potentials in normal and clinical subjects. Clinical Neurophysiology, 111:10, 1745-58.
  30. Courchesne, E., Chisum, H.J., Townsend, J., Cowles, A., Covington, J., Egaas, B., Harwood, M., Hinds, S & Press, GA. (2000). Normal brain development and aging: Quantitative analysis at in vivo MR imaging in healthy volunteers. Radiology, 216, 672-682.
  31. Akshoomoff, N.A., Courchesne, E. & Townsend, J. (1997). Attention coordination and anticipatory control. In J.D. Schmahmann (Ed.), The Cerebellum and cognition, (International Review of Neurobiology, vol. 41), pp. 575-598. San Diego: Academic Press.
  32. Townsend, J., Courchesne, E. & Egaas, B. (1996) Slowed orienting of covert visual-spatial attention in autism: Specific deficits associated with cerebellar and parietal abnormality. Development and Psychopathology, 8(3), 563-584.
  33. Haas, R.H., Townsend, J., Courchesne, E., Lincoln, A.J., Schreibman, L. & Yeung-Courchesne, R. (1996). Neurological abnormalities in infantile autism. Journal of Child Neurology, 11(2), 84-92.
  34. Townsend, J. & Courchesne, E. (1994). Parietal damage and narrow "spotlight" spatial attention. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 6(3), 220-232.
  35. Courchesne, E., Townsend, J. & Saitoh, O. (1994). The brain in infantile autism: Posterior fossa structures are abnormal. Neurology, 44, 214-223.
  36. Courchesne, E., Townsend, J., Akshoomoff, N., Saitoh, O., Yeung-Courchesne, R., Lincoln, A., James, H., Haas, R., Schreibman, L. & Lau, L. (1994). Impairment in shifting attention in autistic and cerebellar patients. Behavioral Neuroscience, 108(5), 848-865.
  37. Courchesne, E., Saitoh, O., Townsend, J., Yeung-Courchesne, R., Press, G., Lincoln, A., Haas, R. & Schreibman, L. (1994). Cerebellar hypoplasia and hyperplasia in infantile autism. The Lancet, 343, 63-64.
  38. Courchesne, E., Akshoomoff, N.A. & Townsend, J. (1992). Recent advances in autism. In H. Naruse & E.M. Ornitz (Eds.), Neurobiology of Infantile Autism. Elsevier Science Publishers, B.V.
  39. Tallal, P., Townsend, J. & Curtiss, S. (1991). Phenotypic profiles of language-impaired children based on genetic/family history. Brain and Language, 41(1):81-95.
  40. Courchesne, E., Akshoomoff, N. & Townsend, J. (1990). Recent advances in autism. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 2, 685-693.