It has been said that a better tomorrow is built based on the efforts, determination and resilience of leaders of the past. English psychiatrist and physician, Dr. Lorna Wing was such a leader. She was instrumental in carving a path and showing us the way to move forward in the research of autism and improving the quality of life for individuals with autism. The world wide autism research community has lost its matriarch with Dr. Wing’s death last Friday, 6 June at the age of 85.
Dr. Wing focused her career on autism after receiving the diagnosis for her only child in the late 1950s. She was instrumental in defining autism as a spectrum, identifying the triad of impairments in autism, coining the term Asperger’s syndrome and helping to establish the National Autistic Society. She has been witness to and an agent for change in the research of autism and the autism community since its early beginnings.
Autism was first described in 1943 by American psychiatrist Leo Kanner and in 1944 by Austrian paediatrician and medical professor, Hans Asperger. Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurological developmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the environment. The term ‘autistic spectrum’ is often used because the condition varies from person to person and can range in form from mild to very severe. Very little knowledge and few services were available when Dr. Wing’s daughter was diagnosed. For over 50 years, Dr. Wing was instrumental in autism research and advocacy, expanding our knowledge and promoting services and support for people with autism and their families.
In honour of the devotion and accomplishments Dr. Wing achieved in the recognition and understanding of autism spectrum disorder and for all people living on the autism spectrum we must continue her momentum, persisting in making steps in autism research, supportive services and collectively working towards what we have yet to achieve.
Valerie D’Astous is a PhD Candidate at the Institute of Gerontology, King’s College London. Her research study focuses on the health care and supportive needs of adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Of particular concern for her is investigating how people with ASD are able to maintain their wellbeing following parental caregiving.