Return to list Heidelise Als, PhD


Heidelise Als, PhD


Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School
Director, Neurobehavioral Infant and Child Studies, Boston Children’s Hospital




Boston Children's Hospital
Enders Pediatric Research Laboratories
320 Longwood Avenue, EN-107
Boston, MA 02115






• Clinical/Translational Neuroscience
• Neonatal Behavior and Brain Development


Dr. Heidelise Als is a researcher and clinician who has focused her life research on the behavioral organization of the newborn infant, especially the preterm and high risk infant. From neurobehavioral and neurophysiological studies performed by our group and others, it is clear that the preterm infant at school age emerges as significantly more at risk for attention deficit disorder, lower IQ, difficulties in social-emotional functioning and self-regulation, and increased need for specialized school services.

These differences may be attributable at least in part to the difference in sensory experience of the immature nervous system when cared for outside the uterus before term. The hypothesis that we have derived from these findings is that environmental input may lead to altered pathway development due to unexpected and overwhelming sensory experience, which in turn may lead to deviant developmental functioning, especially of cortical association areas. Dr. Als is the author of the APIB (Assessment of Preterm Infants' Behavior) and the originator of the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP), an individualized, behaviorally-based developmental care model which is changing Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) around the world.

These neurobehavioral assessment methodologies were developed to address the issues of differentiation and modulation of functioning seen as indices for the study of neuro- organizational differences and disturbances. Additionally, NIDCAP and APIB were developed for the education and training of staff and the support of parents in reading the infant's behavioral cues in order to implement all care collaboratively with the infant. Study results are consistent and demonstrate improved lung function, feeding behavior and growth; reduced length of hospitalization, improved neurodevelopmental function, along with improved brain structure and function for the infants who received individualized developmental care, as compared to the control groups who received the respective NICU's current best practice. Dr. Als is the founder of NIDCAP Federation International (NFI), a professional membership organization.

The aims of Dr. Als and her colleagues' research is firstly to assess the immature nervous system's readiness for sensory input and to document the infant's current active behavioral efforts towards developmental differentiation and thresholds to disorganization. Secondly, they aim to modify the environment and caregiving in keeping with an individual infant's current thresholds to disorganization. Thirdly, they aim to test the effectiveness of the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP), a behaviorally-based approach, in long-term follow-up studies throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Dr. Als has received over 15 grant awards from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Health for her research and authored over 60 articles and chapters.

NIDCAP (Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program) Training and Development - The Harris Foundation