How one woman helped change the lives of 700,000 autistic people in the UK.

Dr Lorna WingThe 7 October would have been the 90th birthday of Dr Lorna Wing who coined the term the autism spectrum and revolutionised thinking on autism and the number of autistic people. She was also a co-founder of the National Autistic Society and helped set up our first diagnosis centre in 1991.

Born in Gillingham in 1928, Lorna Wing became an internationally respected authority on autism. A brilliant psychiatrist and mother to an autistic daughter, Susie, Lorna undertook an ambitious study in the late 1970s of autistic adults and children in South London with Dr Judith Gould. Their work was instrumental in highlighting that the number of autistic people was far higher than previously thought – one in 100 rather than one in tens of thousands.

The concept of the spectrum is a complex one. It is not a simple line from one end to the other and Lorna Wing’s favourite saying was “Nature never draws a line without smudging it.”

In 1991, Wing and Gould founded the National Autistic Society’s first diagnosis centre called the Diagnostic Centre for Social and Communications Disorders. This was renamed the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism in 2008.  It was the first place in the country to provide a complete assessment and advice service for children, adolescents and adults with social and communication disorders. The Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO), which Wing and Gould developed in the 1970s, remains one of the most detailed forms of clinical assessment. The centre has received international recognition for its assessment services and professional training courses. DISCO has also been translated into Japanese, Swedish and Dutch and its dimensional approach to diagnosis has now been recognised in the American international classification system. 

If you feel you or someone you know could be autistic and would like to find out more about how to get a diagnosis, visit our diagnostic page.

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