BSc Hons (Monash); PhD (Monash); MAPS


Professor Dissanayake is a developmental psychologist and behavioural scientist with a strong national and international reputation in the field of autism. Her research contributed to understanding the social-emotional-cognitive development of children diagnosed as autistic and Asperger's, providing a body of evidence to abandoning the distinction between these diagnostic categories. Her research on the early autism phenotype led to the first Australian community-based study to prospectively identify autism in infancy via the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Service, subsequently leading to the inclusion of early signs of autism within the Victorian and Tasmanian child health systems. She has trained professionals nationally and internationally to identify autism earlier, with Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, incorporating these early signs into its seven-year Women and Children’s Health Plan. She has undertaken studies on early intervention and early learning outcomes demonstrating the impact of accessing evidence-based supports early in life which serve to improve the developmental outcomes of autistic children and facilitate social inclusion into the school years. She has also investigated the physiological correlates of behaviour including the cardiac and attentional responses of autistic children to social and emotional stimuli, as well as undertaking studies of early biological markers. More recently, Professor Dissanayake’s work has expanded into adulthood, particularly in the areas of employment, mental health and wellbeing in an effort to promote better quality of life outcomes for autistic people and their families. 

As Director and Research Chair of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC), Professor Dissanayake has had a significant impact on Australian autism research as well as policy through contributions to multiple national and state policy inquiries. She was recognised as Australian Field Leader in Child and Adolescent Psychology (2018, 2019) and was named both Global (2020) and Australian Field Leader for Developmental Disabilities (2020, 2021) by The Australian. She is an inaugural Fellow of the International Society for Autism Research, and was recently (2022) honoured with an Order of Australia for her contributions to autism research.

Professor, Director & Chair, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University

Fellow, International Society for Autism Research

Member, Australian Psychological Society

Order of Australia, AM

Lifetime Member, Australasian Society for Autism Research

1. Barbaro, J., Sadka, N., Gilbert, M., Beattie, E., Li, X., Ridgway, L., Lawson, L., & Dissanayake, C. (2022). Diagnostic accuracy of the Social Attention and Communication Surveillance–Revised with Preschool tool for early autism detection in very young children. JAMA Network Open, 5(3), e2146415;

2. Lord, C., Charman, T., Havdahl, A., Anagnostou, E., Boyd, B., Carbone, P., Carr, T., de Vries, P., Dissanayake, C., Divan, G., Freitag, C., Gotelli, M. M., Kasari, C., Mundy, P., Plank, A., Scahill, L., Servilli, C., Shattuck, P., Simonoff, E., Singer, A., Slonims, V., Wang, P., Ysrraelit, C., Jellett, R., Pickles, A., Knapp, M., Holbrook, A., Toolan, C., & McCauley, J. (2021). Lancet Commission on the Future of Care and Clinical Research in Autism. The Lancet.

3. Dissanayake, C., Searles, J., Barbaro, J., Sadka, N., & Lawson, L. (2019). Cognitive and Behavioural Differences in Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder from Multiplex and Simplex Families. Autism Research, 12(4), 682–693.     

4. Clark, M.C., Barbaro, J., & Dissanayake, C. (2017). School age outcomes of children diagnosed early and later with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(1), 92-102.

5. Bent, C., Barbaro, J., & Dissanayake, C. (2015) Mapping the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in children under 7 years in Australia: 2010 – 2012. Medical Journal of Australia, 202 (6), 317-320.