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In Memoriam: Lorna Wing, Pioneer in Autism Research

 

By Francesca Happé, president of the International Society for Autism Research, as sent to all INSAR members this week.
 

I know you will be saddened, as I was, to hear of the death of Lorna Wing (MD, FRCPsych, OBE), who passed away on June 6th. Everyone who studies autism and many who live or work with those with autism know how much we owe Lorna.

Lorna worked at the Institute of Psychiatry, in the MRC Social Psychiatry Unit, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s conducting landmark studies of autism that changed our conceptions of the condition.  Her groundbreaking early epidemiological work with Judith Gould led to the identification of the “triad” of impairments that came to define autism.  Lorna introduced the concept of an autism “spectrum” in the 1980s. She was among the first to realize that autism could be considered dimensionally and affected people of all ages and abilities. Her 1981 paper on Asperger’s work introduced the term Asperger’s syndrome to the English-speaking world and led the rise in awareness of high-functioning forms of autism.

Lorna’s research was always informed by her deep insights as a parent. Her daughter Susie had severe autism and, very sadly, died in 2005. Lorna will be remembered not only for her research, but also for her huge contribution to autism services. Together with other parents, she founded the National Autistic Society in the UK in the early ‘60s, which established the first specialist schools and later adult services for people with autism. Until recently Lorna was still actively involved in diagnostic services with her lifetime colleague and friend Judy Gould.

Lorna’s wisdom, warmth and intellectual generosity touched so many lives, and the autism research community owes her so much. She was the recipient of the 2005 INSAR Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as many other honors including the Order of the British Empire.

Patricia Howlin, a long-time colleague of Lorna's at the Institute of Psychiatry and herself recipient of the 2013 INSAR Lifetime Achievement Award, captured our feelings very well on hearing of Lorna's passing: "Her life was a gift for people with autism across the world. She has left a huge legacy behind."

Editor's note: On June 19th, the New York Times published an obituary on Dr. Wing, quoting her as saying she had come to believe that most people have some autistic traits. “I do believe you need autistic traits for real success in science and the arts," she said in one of her last interviews. Read the full obituary here