Where did you study/what did you study/what are your qualifications?
I did my undergraduate psychology degree at the University of Bristol. That was where my interest in autism was first piqued.
It was during a second year developmental psychology lecture and our lecturer was telling us about theory of mind – the ability to understand that people have different thoughts and beliefs to us, and those thoughts govern their behaviour. He told us that in typical development this kicks in around 4 years of age, then told us about a (then) new study that had shown that children with autism did not seem to develop theory of mind. I had never heard of autism but I was hooked, so I went to look it up and the rest is history. I went on from my degree to do a PhD on autism with Simon Baron-Cohen at the Institute of Psychiatry and haven’t looked back since.
Tell us about your professional experience:
In the now 20 years since I started my PhD I have become a researcher, a clinician and a ‘specialist’ in the field of autism spectrum conditions. I spent several years working for the University of Cambridge then in 2005 moved to being completely independent as a consultant.
My work ranges from doing diagnostic assessments across the age range and severity of the spectrum, delivering professional training, doing research and writing publications relating to autism spectrum conditions, acting as an expert witness for legal and educational cases related to the spectrum, and more. I am lucky that my work life is very varied and hugely stimulating, even if very exhausting at times!
What are your current projects?
Currently my research leans towards identification and epidemiology of autism spectrum conditions. I worked with Simon (Baron-Cohen) in the development of a screening tool for children with possible Asperger syndrome and able autism spectrum conditions, went on to collaborate with Prof Terry Brugha in screening and identifying adults with Asperger syndrome in the general population, then rates of autism in the adult LD population.
My newest project is collaborating with Dr Peter Langdon at the UEA to develop a screen specifically for adolescent and adult females which could be used by psychiatry and mental health services, with the hope that this will increase accurate diagnosis.
If you weren’t a Psychologist what would you be?
I don’t think I would ever have been anything other than a psychologist, because I have been fascinated with what makes people ‘tick’ since my early teens. If I wasn’t an autism specialist I would probably have ended up either working with unusual neuropsychological conditions such as those written about by Oliver Sacks (whose books I adore), or a parapsychologist researching why people believe in the paranormal!
What do you do away from work? Hobbies? Favourite bands/sports teams/holiday destinations?
Away from work I have quite an alter-ego. I am a biker and member of a local Harley Owners Group, so spend my weekends and holidays clad in leathers and touring the UK and Europe on my Harley (see photo, right). I also enjoy regular jogs in the woods with our labradoodle Kuchi, and spending as much time with the family as possible.
What’s your favourite book?
My favourite book of recent years is The Life of Pi. I thought it was funny, cleverly written and quite enthralling.
What’s your favourite album?
I don’t really have a favourite album. I have an eclectic music taste and it depends on my mood. I love Barber’s Adagio for Strings, but I also love Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks. I probably have more rock in my collection than anything else, but I do enjoy some R&B, and I love Adele.
Whom do you admire most, and why?
I think one of the people I admire most is my mum. She is still working at nearly 70, and never stops. She is someone who works for others, has a really caring attitude and a passion for supporting people. She also is brilliant at public speaking and at capturing her audience. I think I learned a lot from my mum.
Dr Fiona Scott fronts Spectrum Specialist Consultancy Ltd and also runs the ADOS-2 Clinical Workshops