Dr Lorna Wing, an NAS founder member and renowned authority on autism, recently received an Honorary Fellowship from University College London.
Dr Wing was nominated by Professor Uta Frith, who referred to her as "a true shining star in the field of autism".
Few people are honoured in this way, and it is an honour which Dr Wing richly deserved, after a lifetime of ground-breaking research into the autism spectrum, including the establishment of the 'triad of impairments' and the introduction of the term 'Asperger syndrome'.
You can read the full citation, which was presented by Professor Frith, below.
Dr Lorna Wing
Lorna Wing was a medical student here at UCL in the early 1950s. There she met her future husband, the eminent psychiatrist John Wing, over the dissection of a body that they were assigned to share, in the Anatomy department. But then medicine gave way to psychiatry, and what follows from that change of direction is a breathtaking career that has left us all profoundly in her debt.
From the early 1960s, she was on the scientific staff of the MRC Social Psychiatry Unit, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry and Consultant Psychiatrist to the National Autistic Society (of which she is a founder member and Vice-President).
The term that I have just mentioned – autistic – brings us to the very centre of Lorna Wing’s professional and personal life. Her research into autism has been truly groundbreaking. It was she who established the now generally accepted ‘triad of impairments’ as core features of autism, and this insight has had a major impact on diagnostic procedures.
She also defined the concept of an ‘autism spectrum’ which prefigured modern thinking about genetic liability. Moreover, she introduced the term ‘Asperger syndrome’, thereby triggering a huge body of research into those forms of autism that coexist with a good command of language and high IQ.
And it was she who noticed that autistic children lack pretend play. This theory helps us to understand how the social impairments of autism result from a neurocognitive deficit in ‘mentalising’. Pretence is a mental state, just like belief and desire, and it is mental rather than physical states that autistic individuals find it difficult to grasp.
Dr Wing was herself the parent of a daughter with autism, and she has always championed the rights of parents to be involved in discussions with teachers, psychiatric practitioners and medics. She is infinitely patient and compassionate in her relationships to people with autism, to their parents, friends and carers. Professional arrogance is anathema to her. She also hates fuzzy ideas and unproved notions of possible treatment intervention.
Although she is theoretically retired, she continues to act as adviser and consultant to the NAS Centre for Social and Communication Disorders, which has a recently renamed component – the NAS Lorna Wing Centre for Autism.
As a colleague once remarked, Dr Wing has always been ahead of her time in thinking about autism. New ideas about autism come and go, but if one goes back to her earlier writing, one usually finds that if the new ideas are any good, they have already been expressed by Dr Wing. Books on autism pour from the presses; but it is Lorna Wing’s study of 1996 that is definitive and that professionals and parents read first.
For the profound importance of her lifetime’s contribution to the study of autism, she received the OBE and, most recently, the Outstanding Individual Achievement Award of the Charity Times Awards.
Provost and President, I present to you one of the supreme authorities in the world today on autism, Dr Lorna Wing.