Dr Lorna Wing, OBE

It is with great sadness that we mark the death of Dr Lorna Wing, Patron and founding trustee of Research Autism and a towering influence on the charity from its inception until the end of her life last week.  

I have been asked to give a personal perspective as so much has been written about Lorna over these past few days but I have been set a daunting task as it is impossible to do justice to her and her achievements in such a short passage.

Lorna Wing was an extraordinary woman and a true pioneer. She was known and revered the world over. Everyone felt they knew her. Her work is a unique contribution to our understanding of autism, which will almost certainly never be surpassed.

A founding trustee of the National Autistic Society, Lorna always advocated a closer relationship between research and practice, especially in a field that was so prone to fanciful theories and sometimes harmful treatments. In Lorna's words "the treatment often has more to do with the belief system of the therapist than the needs of the child" She was also one of the first to draw attention to the wide variability in autism and the individuality and humanity of the condition. She would point out that what would help one child might not help another and that a personalised approach was essential.

An outstanding academic Lorna was also highly practical and a wonderful communicator. Her writing set her apart. Its clarity made this most mysterious of human conditions accessible. It reassured parents and inspired generations of clinicians and researchers. With our colleague Judy Gould she was instrumental in developing the SPELL framework for understanding and responding to autism and which shaped practice and the DISCO assessment schedule, a ground-breaking instrument for diagnosing and understanding the more complex forms of autism.

As a colleague she was all that one could wish. She was fun -she would challenge- encourage- support and was always open to new ideas- even though she had probably thought of most of them herself years before! Her knowledge of autism was based on that formidable combination of parental experience allied to her personal qualities as a compassionate clinician and the intellect of a cutting-edge researcher- and as a researcher she was painstaking and methodical to an extraordinary degree.

She had such an eye for detail. She would spot anomalies a mile off and would spend hours revisiting data where the results seemed either 'too good to be true' - or in her words "that doesn't seem quite right".  She was almost always right - but the first to admit when she wasn't. She also loved a bit of intrigue where she could use her investigative powers to get to the bottom of some claim or other, especially where she suspected skullduggery! We would irreverently but affectionately refer to her as 'Miss Marple'.

As one of its founders Lorna was passionate in her support of Research Autism and we shall continue to honour her through the conference and seminar series that she established and which bears her name. She had an instinct for identifying topics she thought were important but not receiving sufficient attention. She was the first to identify the need to focus on women and girls. Until last year when the journey to London became too much for her she would enjoy chairing and participating in these events herself and in meeting new people. People would travel from all over the world just to meet Lorna.

Having worked with Lorna for almost twenty five years, firstly with the National Autistic Society and latterly Research Autism I consider myself to be immensely privileged to have known her both as a friend and colleague. She taught me so much. She leaves a huge void in our lives but a legacy that will continue to inspire and guide us and for this we shall always be in her debt.

Richard Mills, Research Director, Research Autism

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25 Oct 2017