Heidelise Als, PhD, 1940-2022, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Director, Neurobehavioral Infant and Child Studies, Boston Children’s Hospital; Director, National NIDCAP Training Center, Boston MA, USA.
Heidelise Als received her University degree summa cum laude in 1963 from the Universities of Würzburg and Eichstätt, Germany following which she worked for two years as a classroom teacher in Nürnberg, Germany. She began post-graduate training at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, US earning a Master’s degree in Education and a Ph.D. in Educational and Developmental Psychology with an emphasis in physical anthropology and statistics. Subsequently she studied human ethology at the University of London.
She was the originator of the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) for the care of preterm infants and their families in Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs), as well as the Assessment of Preterm Infants’ Behavior (APIB), a comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment of preterm and high-risk newborns. NIDCAP has greatly influenced the design, staff education and care delivery in NICUs internationally. Dr. Als was the first President of the NIDCAP Federation International (NFI), which she founded in 2001 and directed for twelve years. Today twenty-eight NIDCAP Training Centers prepare institutions and professionals around the world in the provision of individualized, developmentally supportive, relationship-based, family centered care.
In 1984, Dr. Als created the Neurobehavioral Infant and Child Studies program in the Department of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School and directed its research program on premature infants, how early experiences and care affect brain and emotional development from early infancy into adolescence, and how newborn infants in turn influence their environments and the care they receive and actively construct their own development.
Dr. Als was an internationally recognized leader in the developmental assessment and care of preterm and high-risk infants and was a much sought-after speaker, teacher, and consultant. She conducted numerous large-scale research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education and published extensively.
Dr. Als’ list of publications attests to the quality and breadth of her work (more than 85 peer reviewed papers along with more than 45 chapters/reviews). Many of her manuscripts were published in leading journals including JAMA, Pediatrics, J Pediatrics, J Perinatology, JAACAP, and Child Development. She gave over 500 invited presentations across six continents. Dr. Als advocated for government policy change for the protection and remuneration of parent time while an infant is in a NICU, and beyond the NICU stay. Her work was featured in national and international public media outlets such as PBS, NPR New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe, London Times, Chicago Tribune, and Psychology Today. Dr. Als distinguished herself nationally and internationally as an investigator whose work has forever altered the way a most vulnerable population, infants born prematurely, are perceived and how they receive care.
Dr. Als was also the mother of an adult son with significant developmental disabilities since birth. Her experience as a mother informed all aspects of her career development, her clinical work, research and the translation of her research findings into preventive and ameliorative clinical and educational practice.