Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, University College London
Date/Time: 9th December 2014
Fifty years ago the word ‘autistic’ was not in our vocabulary and only few people knew anything about the condition. Now autism has become part of our everyday language and there seems to be an increase in cases. But is there a real increase?
Autism is now an umbrella term for a very heterogeneous clinical picture including very mild as well as very severe cases. There is however a common denominator and it comes down to two features: difficulties in social communication and narrow interests.
The speaker argues that the type of social communication difficulty in autism is not simply a personality factor. Rather it is due to the lack of a newly discovered social sense, known as ‘mentalising’, our GPS in the social world. The detail focussed tendencies seem to have a different origin, and they can be more or less pronounced in everybody. Thus, there may well be many different forms of autism, and in some sense we can all be a ‘little bit autistic’.
Uta Frith DBE is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at UCL and Visiting Professor at Aarhus University. She is known for her pioneering work on autism and dyslexia. She has contributed some of the major theories explaining some paradoxical features of these conditions and has published numerous scientific articles and books. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society.
One of her current interests is to promote women in science and another is science communication, and in particular, demystifying findings from cognitive neuroscience. She believes that the study of brain and mind will lead to big discoveries in the 21st century and will lead to a better understanding of human nature.