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Lorna Wing, a pioneer in the study of autism, has died

Lorna Wing, a British psychiatrist who made a fundamental contribution to the knowledge and treatment of people with autism, has died at the age of 86. In 1981, she was the first person to use the term “Asperger's syndrome”. Born in 1928, Lorna Wing together with other parents of autistic children in 1962 founded the National Autistic Society in the UK. It was after the birth of her autistic daughter that she resumed the forgotten research carried out by Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician who in the 1940s had identified and studied a group of children who shared a number of characteristics never before described. In the 1970s, on the outskirts of London, Wing also led the first epidemiological study that debunked the theory of Leo Kanner - a contemporary of Asperger and the first person to use the term “autism” - that the disease was associated with an uncommon intelligence and the presence of parents who are cold and detached. The study conducted by Wing, in fact, emphasized three key points: in 70 percent of cases, autism is associated with mental retardation; it does not depend on the mother's emotions; and it affects all levels of society. It is therefore to her that we owe the dismissal of the “refrigerator mother theory”, which was introduced in these very terms in the 1960s by Bruno Bettelheim, a man responsible not only for laying blame on generations of parents, but also for having undermined the trust between families and physicians.

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Aug. 20, 2019

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