Frith, Uta


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I was born in 1941 in Rockenhausen, a small town in the Rhineland Palatinate, Germany. Between 1952 and 1961, I attended a 'classical' Gymnasium in Kaiserslautern, where my father happened to be the art teacher. I imagined I was going to be a comparative linguist, or an art historian, or perhaps an archaeologist. I tried all of these subjects in my first year at the Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken. Out of curiosity I also went to lectures in the Psychology department. After 3 years I obtained the Vor-diplom in Psychology. My dissertation was on visual-motor training in children with reading difficulties. In 1964 I came to London to learn English. I did some voluntary work at the Institute of Psychiatry and got to know about the clinical course, run then by Monte Shapiro. Most importantly, I met Chris Frith. We married in 1966. During my clinical training, I came across children with autism, on Mike Rutter's ward, who fascinat ed me. I still marvel at the fact that I was able to do a PhD with my heroes, Beate Hermelin and Neil O'Connor, from 1966 to 1968, funded by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange). My thesis was on 'Pattern recognition in autism'. In 1968 I was offered a job by Neil O'Connor in hi s new MRC Developmental Psychology Unit at UCL. This meant I could do what I liked best: research into dyslexia and autism! I was highly stimulated by attending a Summer Institute in Reading in 1974, in Delaware, where I met colleagues with similar interests as well as famous reading researchers. I was very fortunate to have Maggie Snowling as my first PhD student: She opened a new chapter in dyslexia research. Research slowed down for a decade or so when bringing up our two sons, Martin born 1975 and Alex, bo rn 1978. I edited a book on Cognitive Processes in Spelling, published in 1980. After Neil O'Connor's retirement, I joined John Morton's MRC Cognitive Development Unit, founded in 1983. This was an exciting period when I got very actively involved in autism research again with my young colleague, Alan Leslie, and my PhD student, Simon Baron-Cohen. We developed the “Theory-of mind” hypothesis about autism to try to explain the social features of autism. Another PhD student, Amitta Shah, researched the non-social features, which led to the Central Cohe rence theory. Both these theories are evident in a book on Autism I published in 1989. Work on autism was vitally advanced by Francesca Happé, who was a PhD student from 1988-91. She has remained my chief collaborator. In 1998, I obtained an MRC programme grant to continue investigating developmental disorders. I join ed the new UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience as the ideal environment for this venture. My group consists of highly able young people who are involved in finding out the neuro-cognitive basis of autism and dyslexia using experimental and imaging techniques. Collaboration with Chris Frith is a crucial factor in this work. Author: Uta Frith