Dame Stephanie’s £1m gift to autism study

A BUSINESSWOMAN-turned-philanthropist has pledged £1 million to an autism research centre at one of Scotland’s leading universities.

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, who started her multi-million software company at her kitchen table, will give the donation to the Patrick Wild Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

Her late son Giles, who died in 1998 aged 35, suffered from autism and epilepsy, and the donation will go towards creating a state-of-the-art imaging suite which will enable scientists to study autism in new ways.

Dame Stephanie founded the software company FI Group, now known as Xansa/Steria, in the 1960s. She adopted the name “Steve” to help her in the male-dominated business environment at the time.

The Shirley Foundation is one of the top grant-giving foundations in the UK with more than £50m worth of grants awarded.

Dame Stephanie, who was the Westminster Government’s founding Philanthropy Ambassador, said: “Research has moved beyond looking at its [autism’s] consequences to examine how biology, genetics and behaviour all link together.

“Results cannot be guaranteed but my hope is that this imaging suite will attract more quality researchers to focus on autism.”

The Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities brings together university specialists who want to develop and test new treatments having pinpointed how genetic changes cause the illness.

It was set up last year following donations to the university by graduate Dr Alfred Wild, and Gus Alusi and Reem Waines, a London-based couple whose son Kenz, six, has Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited form of intellectual disability, and the most common known genetic cause of autism spectrum disorders.

The centre is named in memory of Dr Wild’s brother Patrick, who was severely autistic.

Dr Andrew Stanfield, consultant psychiatrist and co-director of the centre, said: “We are incredibly grateful to Dame Stephanie for this generous gift which we hope will play a part in developing better treatments for people with autism and related disorders.”

Meanwhile today sees the opening of Scotland’s first state-of-the-art, satellite school for children with autism.

The school in St Leonards, East Kilbride is an off-shoot of the main Daldorch House School, an independent specialist school, in Catrine, East Ayrshire.

It will provide 24-hour care and education for young people aged five-19 with autism and very complex needs.

The satellite school will allow children in South Lanarkshire with autism to be supported nearer their families and within their local communities wherever possible.

Dr Robert Moffat, national director of the National Autistic Society (NAS) Scotland, said: “NAS Scotland is encouraging local authorities across the country to follow South Lanarkshire Council’s innovative lead and enable more people with autism to access help and support within their local communities wherever possible.

“Some people with the condition require a lifetime of care. But most want to access the same educational, local community and employment opportunities that many of us take for granted. They just need the right support at the right time to help them reach their full potential.”

500,000 people in the UK suffer from autism, which works out at about 1 in 100.

50 per cent plus of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them.

15 per cent of adults with autism in the UK are in full-time paid employment.