In Memory of Lorna Wing – A Pioneer in Autism Research

Lorna Wing

Lorna Wing

“Her life was a gift for people with autism across the world. She has left a huge legacy behind” ~ Patricia Howlin

Lorna Wing, one of the pioneers of autism research, passed away June 6th.  She worked at the Institute of Psychiatry in the MRC Social Psychiatry Unit in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and conducted landmark studies of autism that changed many conceptions of the disorder.  She also introduced the concept of autism as a spectrum disorder that affected children and adults of all ages and abilities.

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.  As a mother of a daughter with severe autism, her work throughout her life reflected her understanding of the challenges parents’ experience of raising a child with autism.

In 1981 she introduced Hans Asperger’s work to the English-speaking world.  Few at this time knew that an Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, had published a paper in the early 1940s about his observations of four children who had difficulty integrating socially, had normal intelligence but lacked non-verbal communication skills.  We owe our thanks to Lorna Wing for discovering this work.

Although at the time I was not familiar with Lorna Wing’s work in the UK in the US we were relooking in the early 80s at some of our children who were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities with “autistic tendencies.”  We began to acknowledge that children with autism required instructional strategies different from children with intellectual disabilities.  Faculty traveled to the University of North Carolina to learn about T.E.A.C.H. model.  Others travelled to California and learned from Ivar Lovaas, a clinical psychologist and founder of ABA (applied behavior analysis).  Both models are still used at ELBS today.

I am saddened by her passing but know because of the work of Lorna Wing, children and adults with ASD have every opportunity to be successful members of their communities.   

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