Joan Welkowitz died peacefully, surrounded by all of her family in her home in Stockbridge, Massachussetts on February 11th, 2006. While I have made mention of her work in the field of Asperger's in previous blog entries, including an early podcast interview, these references do not do adequately describe the rich history of her contributions to the field of psychology and to social justice.
As the first woman to achieve Full Professor rank at New York University (NYU), Joan was a pioneer in fighting for women's rights in academia. She fought for equal pay at a time of great disparity between the salaries of men and women at NYU and served on the committee that brought domestic partner benefits to NYU faculty, two achievements she was particularly proud of. During her 43 years of service to NYU, she chaired Ph.D. theses committees for scores of doctoral students (a list is appended to this posting) and served as the Director of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program for many years.
Joan's best selling textbook, "Introductory Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences," continues to be used in statistics classes worldwide and has sold several hundred thousand copies. She was working on the 7th edition right up a few weeks before her death.
In each decade, Joan made a major contribution to the field of psychology, beginning with her collaborations with well known peronality theorist Raymond Cattell in the 1950's, where they were the first to apply the "16PF" (16 Personality Factor model) to children.
In the 60's, she authored a highly cited paper on the importance of matching of therapist and patient values, showing that such "matching" was equally as important as the theoretical orientation of the therapist.
In the 70's, she worked with Stanley Feldstein to produce many papers in the area of psycholinguistics, showing that "how people talked" (i.e., their rhythms of speech) were more important than "what people said" (i.e., the content of speech) in determining how connected people felt with their conversational partners.
In the 80's, Joan was the co-investigator of NIMH research in the area of neuropsychology and facial identification which produced scores of important publications. One insight she shared from this work related to the disconnect between the expression of emotion and actual emotion experienced by stroke victims. She observed that some stroke patients "felt more" than you could read in thier "flat" manner of expression.
In the 90's, Joan collaborated with Elmer Struening at Columbia University's Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Larry Welkowitz to study the co-occurence (co-morbidity) of anxiety disorders. Drawing on data from over 20,000 individuals from an annual national survey, this work showed that, in real life, individuals tend to suffer simultaneously from numerous types of anxiety problems and depression, rather than one particular diagnosis. The implications for treatment are of course dramatic: Doctors and therapists needed to understand that individuals don't fit nicely into a particular diagnostic box.
In the 2000's, Joan served as co-investigator with Linda Baker and Larry Welkowitz on a Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation grant study of Asperger's and Autism. As a result of this work, Joan became a strong proponent of using peer mentoring programs on college campuses to help assist students with spectrum disorders.
In recent years, Joan was also very concerned about the erosion of civil rights in the U.S. She was on a walk with her husband, Walter, to have breakfast at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th, 2001, and watched as the planes plunged in to the buildings, an event which plagued her for several years. In a videotaped interview two days later, she stressed that her biggest concern was that the WTC event would be used as an excuse to strip citizens of their civil rights and lead to unbridled discrimination.
Joan had a playful approach to life. She created adventure wherever she went, and was much loved by her friends, colleagues, and family. Her husband (Walter), children (David, Larry, Julie), and grandchildren (Billy, Stacy, Annika, Josh, Shayna). We are very proud of her accomplishments and will miss her very much.
http://www.legacy.com/Link.asp?Id=LS16753924X (NY Times Notice posted until 2/18/07)
http://www.legacy.com/berkshire/Obituaries.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=16726862 (Berkshire Eagle Notice)
http://188.8.131.52/movies/9-11.mov (Joan on 9-11 video)