History of the Center

The first Director of what would become the Child Study Center was Arnold Gesell, Ph.D., M.D. (1880-1961). Dr. Gesell, a psychologist and subsequently a pediatrician, is often considered the father of child development in the United States. In 1911 he instituted a clinical service that became the Yale Clinic of Child Development. A meticulous observer and researcher, Gesell is best known for his studies of normal child development and his use of new approaches in doing so.

Following Gesell’s retirement, Milton J.E. Senn, M.D. was recruited to serve as both Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and Director of the reorganized Child Study Center. The designation as a Center indicated the University’s desire for a multidisciplinary program focused on child development. An innovator in pediatrics, Senn introduced many changes in pediatric care including rooming in. He was succeeded in 1966 by Albert J. Solnit, M.D. who had been the first resident in Child Psychiatry at Yale.

Al Solnit was a child psychiatrist, pediatrician, and psychoanalyst who pioneered work on social policy and child custody. He fostered collaborations with the Department of Pediatrics, Yale Law School, and oversaw the establishment of the Center as a Department of the Yale School of Medicine and of Yale-New Haven Hospital. He expanded the research program in neurobiology by recruiting Donald Cohen, M.D. who would succeed him in 1983 as the fourth Director of the Center.

Donald Cohen stimulated the growth of one of the nation’s leading programs with a focus on brain mechanisms along with a strong commitment to clinical service, social policy, and international activities. Under his leadership programs of research and clinical excellence were developed in several areas, including autism and Tourette’s disorder. His impact on the field remains powerful, despite his premature death in 2001.

John E. Schowalter, M.D., a child psychiatrist, became Interim Director of the Center following Donald Cohen’s death. Dr. Schowalter was a national and international leader in child psychiatry and served as Director of Child Psychiatry Training here for almost three decades. He was followed, in 2002, by Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with a strong interest in treatment evaluation and work in the area of conduct disorder. He was succeeded in 2006 by Fred Volkmar, M.D..

Fred Volkmar came to Yale as a trainee in 1980, joined the faculty in 1982 and worked with Donald Cohen to develop our world renowned autism program. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Volkmar is the author of several hundred scholarly works in the area of autism and is the Editor of the "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders".

Throughout its history, the Center has had an outstanding group of faculty and trainees. Many have achieved clinical renown, successful research careers, and international recognition. The primary goal for the Center always remains excellence in science, clinical services, and training in order to enhance child mental health world-wide.

We look forward to celebrating 100 years of Child Study at Yale in 2011!