Lorna Wing (1928 – 2014) became one of the world’s leading experts in autism; she died in June this year.
Lorna was born in Kent and trained as a medical doctor, specialising in psychiatry. She met her future husband while studying medicine and they had a daughter, who was diagnosed in 1962 at the age of three with autism. This led Lorna to change the focus of her work to childhood developmental disorders and her work was ground-breaking.
As a researcher she refined the sub-groups within a diagnosis of autism, coined the term Asperger’s syndrome (to describe behaviours observed by the Austrian psychiatrist, Hans Asperger) and contributed to the eventual development of autism as a spectrum condition. She also described the “triad of impairments” which all people with autism show. Researchers following Lorna owe a great debt to her work.
Lorna was one of the founders in 1962 of the National Autistic Society. She published many books and articles. The Autistic Spectrum, for parents and professionals, first published in 1996 is still popular and a valuable reference. She campaigned for better understanding of services needed by people with autism and their families. Her work was honoured with the award of an OBE in 1994.
To show how far we have travelled since Lorna Wing began her work, we need to understand that autism was a little known condition when her own child was diagnosed. At that time most children (and adults) with autism would live in hospitals and institutions. There would be no attempt at education; instead staff would concentrate on trying to train the children to have limited self-care skills. Mothers were routinely blamed by doctors for their children’s difficulties in socialisation.
Lorna used her scientific training to challenge how autism was understood and to inform professional best practice and expectations. Her work, with which she remained involved, until the end of her life, has been hugely influential in bringing about change and improving the quality of life for those with autistic spectrum disorder and their families.
Written for Sheroes of History by Geraldine Dora: “About me – I work in admin in Higher Education and I have an autistic child myself (he is grown up now). Lorna Wing’s books certainly helped me over 20 years ago understand my son’s behaviour at a time when I was having difficulty obtaining a diagnosis and thus appropriate support and education for him. She gave me the language to describe what I was seeing.”
Find out more:
A number of Lorna’s books are available to buy & read.
Watch this interview with Lorna here: