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Bromley psychologist who changed the way we see autism

PUBLISHED: 09:36 28 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:36 28 February 2013

Judith Gould with a sensory toy used by children who visit the centre.

Judith Gould with a sensory toy used by children who visit the centre.

Archant

Behind the doors of an ordinary house in an ordinary Bromley street works a woman who has changed the way the world sees autism.

Dr Judith GouldDr Judith Gould

Dr Judith Gould has spent the past 40 years researching the condition and has been nominated for a lifetime achievement award by the National Autistic Society (NAS).

Her nomination is for her contribution, alongside Dr Lorna Wing, to what we now know as the autistic spectrum.

The spectrum allows a range of conditions and aspects to fall into the category of autism, preventing a “Rain Man view” (after Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 80s film) that previously existed, says the 65-year-old.

She said: “I’m overwhelmed to have been nominated for the award because I’ve been in the field for nearly 40 years.

Dr Judith GouldDr Judith Gould

“Together with Lorna Wing, we established our centre here in Bromley and our work changed the thinking on autism. Now people view it in a different way and know people with all levels of intelligence can be affected by the disability.”

Dr Gould and Dr Wing approached the NAS 21 years ago to set up a medical practice where they could assess and provide diagnosis.

The first of its kind in the UK, The NAS Lorna Wing Centre for Autism in Masons Hill is still the professional home of Welsh-born Dr Gould.

As well as meeting with those who may have autism, the centre is a training base where people can learn how to diagnose the disability.

“We offer training in our methods so children can be seen locally and won’t have to travel all the way to Bromley,” said Dr Gould.

Far from just dealing with children, the centre also welcomes adults who may have gone their whole lives without receiving a correct diagnosis.

Dr Gould added: “We often deal with the more able end of the spectrum.

“If you have somebody who is verbally articulate and really can only do that one to one, that can be a sign.”

A common misconception of autism is that it’s a disability that only affects men. While it’s true that more men are diagnosed, Dr Gould is out to dispel this myth.

Girls missed by the system can often find themselves battling with schoolwork as they slip behind and are let down by stereotypes.

Dr Gould said: “The situation has to change because we are seeing women who have been completely missed because they appear to be more sociable than guys.

“That could be because their interests might revolve around celebrities, rather than trains or cars, but what happens is these girls are often bullied and teased at school.”

Autism was brought to public attention on a broad scale by the 1988 film Rain Man, which many have criticised for Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the disorder.

However, Dr Gould believes the film did more good than bad, helping put autism on the mainstream map.

“They were changing times and it was a new view of autism but it was the beginning of public awareness,” says Dr Gould.

“People argue it presents a narrow view, but I don’t think it’s all bad, it did a lot of good.”

The winner of the NAS lifetime achievement award will be announced on Tuesday at an annual professional conference in Harrogate.

If you want to find out more about Dr Gould’s work in Bromley, visit www.autism.org.uk.

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