Dr. Lorna Wing’s Pioneering Work in Autism

Dr. Lorna Wing died on June 6th at the age of 85. It is with sadness that I think about the death of this wonderful psychiatrist, researcher and autism advocate. While I didn’t know her personally, I am filled with immense gratitude for all the work that she accomplished throughout her life. Dr. Wing has contributed so much to our understanding of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Like so many of us, she began her research into autism in the 1950’s as she looked for answers to her daughter’s behavior.

Dr. Wing’s outstanding contributions are numerous. She and her colleague, Dr. Judith Gould, determined that autism is not just one single condition, but is rather a wide spectrum of behaviors that stem from a common disorder that she described as “a lack of ability to understand and use the rules governing social behavior.” They subsequently established a clinic, Center for Social and Communications Disorders, that is a benchmark for diagnosis and treatment for autism in children.

She also brought to light the work of Hans Asperger, the Austrian psychiatrist who first described the behavior of the form of autism that is known today as Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Asperger’s work had been eclipsed by WWII and was forgotten until Dr. Wing rediscovered it. In his original writings he called this disorder, “autistic psychopathy”, but when writing about his findings, she titled her 1981 published paper as, “Asperger’s Syndrome: A Clinical Account”, and that name has become widely known.

You can read more in the New York Times article: Dr. Lorna Wing, Who Broadened Views of Autism, Dies at 85.

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