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Dr. Dana Suskind

Pediatric physician and author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain and Parent Nation

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  • About Dana Suskind

    Dana Suskind, MD, is Founder and Co-Director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program, and Professor of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Public Policy (affiliate) at the University of Chicago.

    As a surgeon, social scientist, and leading authority on the role parents and caregivers play in promoting children’s healthy brain development, Dr. Dana Suskind approaches her fight against this nation’s opportunity gaps from a unique and rich perspective rooted in the knowledge that science can and should be the basis for social change.

    Dr. Dana Suskind’s career, which began in the operating room, evolved when she observed profound inequities among her patients, with some thriving after receiving a cochlear implant, and other struggling to meet their intellectual potential. Recognizing the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child, she founded the precursor to the TMW Center for Public Health + Early Learning (the Thirty Million Word Initiative) in 2008. Since then, Dr. Suskind and her team have designed, delivered, and rigorously evaluated cutting-edge programs that help parents and caregivers harness the power of their language to build children’s brains and shape their futures.

    As TMW Center programs have reached over 5,000 families in Chicago and beyond, Dr. Dana Suskind’s research and thought leadership have reached and inspired countless others. She has a unique ability to bring together leaders from all sectors and disciplines in pursuit of a revolutionary vision: A nation that treats healthy cognitive development as a fundamental right; a society that uses science and the tools of public health to ensure all children reach their full potential.

    Her ideas and efforts have been recognized by organizations as diverse as the Schmidt Futures Fund, which supports the TMW Center’s innovative technology solutions, the Steve Nash Foundation, which partnered with the TMW Center to launch a version of its program tailored specifically for dads, and the Obama White House, which invited Dr. Suskind to lead the first-ever “Bridging the Thirty Million Word Gap” convening in 2013.

    Under Dr. Suskind’s leadership, the TMW Center is driving a push for population-level change ushered in by a community-wide approach to early learning. The Center partners with communities to embed its evidence-based interventions into existing health, education, and community service systems. The impact of this approach will soon be felt in communities around the nation.

    Once profiled in The Chicago Tribune’s “Remarkable Woman” series, Dr. Dana Suskind is the author of over 50 scientific publications , the “empowering” and “beautifully written” Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain (Dutton, 2015) and Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise (Dutton, 2022).  She is a member of the American Academic of Pediatrics and a Fellow for the council on Early Childhood. Her work has been profiled by numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, The Economist, Forbes, NPR, and Freakonomics. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their blended family of eight kids. In her free time, she likes to read bike with her husband and ignore the financial implications of having four kids in college.

    Contact us about booking Dr. Dana Suskind for your next event.

  • Speaking Topics

    Parent Nation

    Weaving together the latest science on the developing brain with heart-breaking and relatable stories of families from all walks of life, Dr. Dana Suskind shows that the status quo—scores of parents convinced they should be able to shoulder the enormous responsibility of early childhood care and education on their own—is not only unsustainable, but deeply detrimental to the wellbeing of children, families, and society. In this thought-provoking workshop, she provides a blueprint for the path forward, clearly outlining how society can and should help families meet the developmental needs of their children.

    Thirty Million Words

    The founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, Dr. Dana Suskind explains why just simply talking to a child is the single most important thing one can do to help the child’s future success in life. Suskind reveals the recent science behind this truth and outlines precisely how to best put it into practice.

    The Importance of Language and the Science of Brain Development

    Words are the building blocks of a child’s brain. The more words a child hears, the faster their vocabularies grow, the higher their IQ scores and the greater their reading comprehension, spatial and math abilities. A dearth of words during the critical years of a child’s development (from age 0 to 3) can prevent that child from ever reaching their full potential. By tuning in, talking more, and taking turns with their children, parents can help close the achievement gap, one child at a time.

  • Video

  • Praise for Dana Suskind

    Praise for Parent Nation

    A manifesto, and a handbook, for what we as individuals and as a society are morally called to do for all kids to thrive. Required reading for anyone who has ever loved a child.

    Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, MacArthur Fellow, and author of New York Times Bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

    The best thing we can do for our children (and ourselves!) is to heed the call to action in this timely, important and beautiful book. Parent Nation lays out a powerful science-based framework that will lead us to healthier children, happier parents, and stronger communities.

    Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University and New York Times bestselling author of the 3-book series Expecting BetterCribsheet, and The Family Firm

    At a time when America seems hopelessly polarized, Dr. Dana Suskind shows us how it is possible to work together across political divides for the wellbeing of our children, our families, and our communities. Filled with poignant stories, clarifying data, and practical proposals, Parent Nation offers a stirring call to action.

    Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Professor of History at Calvin University and New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne

    Dr. Dana Suskind brings medical science and social science together in this lucid and important book, making the personal political in the best possible way, to argue passionately for how our country can and should support parents so that they can do what they most want to do–care for the children they love.

    —Perri Klass, MD, professor of pediatrics and journalism at New York University and author of A Good Time to Be Born and The New York Times column The Checkup

    Dr. Dana Suskind delivers a beautifully written book, backed by history and science and fueled by elegant and powerful prose. As parents of two separate generations—one of us a single mother who fought to maintain presence in the lives of her children and the other, a dad who fights daily to provide better and more equitable futures for his and all kids—this book offers a clarion call for parents to band together and create a society that lifts up and supports all families. As mother and son, we stand united, ready to join the fight that Parent Nation so brilliantly lays out.

    Wes Moore, New York Times bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore and his mother Joy Thomas Moore, author of The Power of Presence

    Parent Nation makes clear that a child’s first three years of life are a time of unparalleled brain growth, and our public policies need to reflect that reality. Societal supports for parents that begin on a child’s first day of life, when learning begins, are the missing components in our nation’s education system. Dr. Suskind’s sensible and actionable recommendations illuminate our path to a future where all children are given a sturdy foundation and an opportunity to meet their inherent potential.

    Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and author of How Schools Work

    A powerful reminder that we know too much about the critical importance of early brain development to continue treating children’s first years as anything other than a paramount driver of health in our communities. Supporting children means supporting the adults that care for them; calling for and investing in coordinated, quality early childhood systems, and elevating businesses and governments that provide these vital structures – that’s the work of all of us.

    Steve Nash, former NBA All-Star and MVP, Coach of the Brooklyn Nets, President, The Steve Nash Foundation: Growing Health in Kids

    In Parent Nation, Dana Suskind compellingly argues that supporting parents as they raise young children should be a national priority. With empathy and a sense of urgency, Suskind movingly lays out why the neuroscience of early childhood development makes those years so critical. Parent Nation is nothing less than a call for action.

    Alex Kotlowitz, bestselling author of There Are No Children Here

    Praise for Thirty Million Words

    Can a surgeon help solve poverty and improve equality of opportunity? Dr. Dana Suskind has a simple but effective strategy: more talking, with more complex words directed at children from zero to three mainly by parents. Her lucid book will persude you that talk and more talk directed at the developing brains of infants and toddlers can drastically improve our country. Read it and try it.

    Ezekiel Emanuel, author of Healthcare, Guaranteed

    Parents, other caregivers, and early childhood educators will be moved and inspired by this work.

    Library Journal (starred)

    Suskind’s vision is empowering, her methods are surprisingly simple to execute, and the results have been proven to nurture children toward becoming stable, empathetic adults. Informative, exciting new data that confirms the significant benefits gained by talking to your child.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Dr. Dana Suskind has written a passionate, engaging and informed account of the importance of early exposure to language in child development. It is a valuable ‘call to words’ for parents, educators, and anyone invested in the success and well-being of children.

    James Heckman, University of Chicago, Nobel Laureate

    Thirty Million Words tells the story of a remarkable woman’s unrelenting mission to give every child the chance to thrive. Dana Suskind’s work as a pediatric surgeon with the deaf helped her to understand the amazing power that words have on a child’s development. She offers a simple but profound understanding of how language affects the brain and provides insights into how to create a rich language environment so your child can soar. Every page overflows with warmth and intelligence—share it and become part of something amazing.

    Steven D. Levitt, University of Chicago, coauthor of Freakonomics
  • Books by Dana Suskind

  • Media About Dana Suskind

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  • Dana Suskind travels from Chicago, IL

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