Home > Science, Uncategorized > Meet Joseph Horrigan, MD, Autism Speaks’ New Assistant Vice President of Medical Research

Meet Joseph Horrigan, MD, Autism Speaks’ New Assistant Vice President of Medical Research

Posted by Joseph Horrigan, MD, Autism Speaks assistant vice president of medical research.

In introducing myself to the wider Autism Speaks community, I’d like to start by conveying how thrilled I am to be part of its mission. It’s an exciting time for autism research, especially when it comes to finding  new treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Today, we know so much more about the biological mechanisms behind ASDs than we did just a few years ago. We are now poised to make a big leap forward in the development of new medicines and therapies that address the core symptoms. I’m so grateful to be part of an organization that’s leading the charge.

I came to Autism Speaks after almost ten years helping pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline develop clinical trials for safely and effectively testing pediatric drugs for conditions such as bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). I have also led clinical programs testing new medicines for chronic diseases such as  multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia. These experiences have given me valuable insights into the process behind bringing new medicines through the clinical trial process and into the hands of doctors.

Above all, however, I see myself as a physician. As a child psychiatrist, I care for people who face complicated clinical challenges. Since 1992, I have consulted at a residential treatment facility for children, which I continue to do on a pro bono basis. About a third of the youngsters I care for have ASDs, and I have always loved working with them. Their families are so motivated and passionate, and I enjoy the partnership of working with them, often shoulder to shoulder, to optimize treatment and outcomes.

And I’m most satisfied when we can craft a treatment program that fits a child’s unique needs. I’ll admit, it’s seldom an easy task—given the complexity of ASDs.

As a parent of two children who have experienced significant illnesses, I feel particular empathy for the distress family members feel when treatments fail to provide adequate relief for their loved ones. This inadequacy redoubles my passion for expanding and improving the treatment options available for ASDs. Working with Geri Dawson, Rob Ring and the many passionate scientists at Autism Speaks, I truly believe we will make tremendous progress in the years ahead.

In the last five years, we have greatly advanced our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of ASDs. Scientists have not only identified genetic changes associated with autism, but have gone far in understanding how these changes affect the internal workings of brain cells as well as brain development. Such insights open the door to the discovery and development of safe and effective new medicines and other interventions.

Five years from now, I anticipate seeing the many tangible ways that all of us at Autism Speaks—including our families, friends, donors, and volunteers—have helped accelerate the development of better medicines and other tools that truly improve the lives of those on the autism spectrum.

I’ve been following Autism Speaks since its genesis in 2005, and I can’t think of a better team of people for the job. I’m honored to be on the same team with you all. Let’s get started!

  1. Gloria
    October 28, 2011 at 10:33 am

    My niece has two children that have to go through a lot of hatred for their challenges. The boy was diagnosed at 2 years of age, with Autism, and we have worked hard, to get him into public school, to have him be able to participate in school activities, the girl was diagnosed with ADHD, and is now going to a specialist and doing biofeedback, and my niece was told she has Aspbergers, what a blow to my niece. I have worked it into my schedule, and my life to be there for them, we get on the computer and do games etc. at Dyslexia . com This website has been a blessing! I am constantly looking up stuff to help these two. I will not quit helping them as long as I can.

  2. Karen Orem
    October 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Dr. Horrigan, I want to thank you for all you are doing to help provide asistance and medications, especially with the intention of getting help to the youngest in our society who have been challenged by their condition(s).

    From my limited knowledge and research, my understanding has been that bi-polar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders all stem from the same affected area of the brain. If I am correct, is that why there are those with ASD who also have bi-polar disorder, ADHD, and OCD?

    Thank you so very, very much!!

  3. Dawn Havas
    October 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I sure hope that you and Autism Speaks will finally acknowledge the true underlying reasons and medical conditions our children with autism have proven to suffer from. (identified with lab work and international studies) Rather than treating our children with more toxic and harmful psychiatric medications just to treat the symptoms,

  4. October 28, 2011 at 11:38 am

    My grandson has ASD and is kind of in the middle of the spectrum. He is 6 yrs old and is now on risperidone which has helped quite a bit, but hopefully there will be other meds that will work even better in the future. So many people have asked my daughter (a single mom, no dad involved), if she has tried this or that and we know they mean well. But while she has been faithful in getting all the treatment and therapies possible, she feels at times like people want to ‘fix’ him and that somehow he isn’t good enough in other people’s minds. I would like for others to please think before they speak. She has even had therapists tell her not to give her child(ren) immunizations even though that was proven to be a completely false study. She is doing everything she can for him so like I said, think before you speak. Thank you and all other doctors/researchers for your work in the area of ASD, it is truly appreciated.

  5. October 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Hey, Dr. Joe!! You were my son’s doctor back at UNC back in the 90’s. (Alan Gaylord) He is now 24 and doing much better with his Tourette’s. His autism is, of course, still there, but he has a happy, fulfilled life as an adult. We were always grateful for your personal attention and creative ways to help Alan cope, both pharmacologically and otherwise. Best of luck in your new position at Autism Speaks. They made a great choice in you!


    Susie Gaylord
    Fayetteville, NC

  6. John Scott Holman
    October 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Hmm, GSK? ADHD? Any chance you were involved in the clinical trials for Dexedrine or Dexedrine Spansules?

  7. irma
    November 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    What about seizures? 30% of individuals with autism suffer from seizure disorders, this is a very debilitating disorder and the lack of communication makes it so much more difficult for parents to control and choose the right medication for their son or daughter. Where is Autism Speaks in researching this aspect of autism?

  8. James (Jim) and Gail Deal
    November 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Hey Dr. Horrigan,
    You treated our son back from 1996-2001 (?) We miss you …Unfortunately Richard hasn’t progressed like we had hoped. Any ideas? We are desperate!
    Gail and Jim Deal Greensboro, NC

  1. November 3, 2011 at 10:30 am

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