Autism Research Institute

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The Autism Research Institute (ARI), established in 1967 by Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., is a San Diego, California, based nonprofit that serves primarily as a resource for information on autism and autism spectrum disorders. Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. became the director of ARI upon Rimland's death in 2006.


ARI was founded in 1967 by Bernard Rimland, Ph.D, a research psychologist. Rimland’s book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior was published in 1964. Rimland was the first to authoritatively challenge the prevailing theory of the time, the refrigerator mother theory (that autism was caused by unloving mothers), by providing evidence that autism is a biological disorder. He founded ARI to promote Applied Behavior Analysis as an intervention for autism.[1] Today, ARI continues to seek out autism treatments by:[2]

  • Conducting and funding research on autism treatments.
  • Publishing independent reviews of scientific, peer-reviewed research on autism triggers and treatments.
  • Maintaining the largest database of anecdotal parent reporting in the world, with more than 40,000 entries from 60 countries with data collection ongoing for several surveys including autism subtypes and adult medical issues.


In an interview with, ARI Director Steve Edelson said “if a practitioner claims to ‘cure’ autism, run in the other direction.”[3] ARI’s focus is on evidence-based treatments.

ARI is a major proponent of the biomedical approach for autism treatment,[4] compiling evidence from autism research experts and parents to share information about the most viable multidisciplinary treatments for management of common autism symptoms. The premise for integrative medical intervention is that certain neurological disorders, including autism, might be caused by environmental triggers that compromise the gastrointestinal, immunological, and neurological systems;[5] gastrointestinal, in that those with autism tend toward constipation and/or diarrhea and often have abnormal cravings or abhorrence for certain kinds of food; immunological, in that many have poor regulation of the immune system; and decreased ability to fight infectious diseases, and some are prone to allergies; and neurological, in that hypo- or hypersensitive to sensory impressions is very common. Proponents of integrative medical intervention claim that children with autism generally improve the health of all three systems with an adapted or 'special' diet, or with the addition to their diet of certain dietary supplements, nutrients, and enzyme supplements. Based on this premise, what is often diagnosed as autism spectrum disorder is seen as a physiological syndrome involving many parts of the body that could be treated as a physiological disorder.

ARI is also a longtime supporter of Applied Behavior Analysis,[6] believing ABA should complement other autism interventions.

Controversial treatments/issues and ARI’s position today:

  • Vaccines – ARI supports safe vaccination. Research on this topic is ongoing and ARI continues to track new developments in this field of study, among others. The organization continues to seek potential trigger factors for autism.[7]
  • Chelation – Chelation is not a “cure” for autism. If, in the opinion of a medical doctor, the patient has an unusual heavy-metal burden, chelation might be warranted, just as it would be for a patient who does not have autism. Additional research is needed to investigate the prevalence and underlying reasons for impaired excretion of environmental toxins, and to determine effective treatments.[8]
  • Gluten-free, casein-free diets – ARI believes that this diet can be beneficial. While a study by the University of Rochester found "eliminating gluten and casein from the diets of children with autism had no impact on their behavior, sleep or bowel patterns,"[9] a study by the Department of Biobehavioral Health at The Pennsylvania State University found "Overall, diet efficacy among children whose parents reported the presence of GI symptoms, food allergy diagnoses, and suspected food sensitivities included greater improvement in ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms, and social behaviors compared with children whose parents reported none of these symptoms, diagnoses, or sensitivities (P < 0.05).”[10]
  • Based on empirical evidence and research, ARI asserts that pharmaceutical treatments should be approached with caution, as some may exacerbate some symptoms while treating others.[11]


ARI has awarded more than $1.5 million in research grants since 2009. Grant recipients include Harvard/Mass General, Cleveland Clinic, UCLA, Arizona State University, UC Davis, and Columbia University.[12] ARI also funds Tissue Banks for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the University of Maryland [13] and the Digestive Function Laboratory Repository at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; a specimen bank for non-autistic individuals to provide proper comparison controls for researchers is in development.


ARI holds that autism can be treated through a combination of intensive behavior modification, such as Applied Behavior Analysis,[14] and a wide variety of biomedical interventions, primarily the use of dietary supplements and special diets. To this end, they sponsored a yearly conference (once known as Defeat Autism Now!/DAN!), known as the ARI Conference, of researchers, scientists, and physicians that ended in 2012. ARI ended the registry of DAN doctors in 2011.[15] Today, ARI provides online webinars several times a month.


  • Autistic Global Initiative (AGI) – AGI is an ARI program staffed by adults with autism who are committed to increasing quality infrastructure for adults with ASD.[16]
  • The Global Autism Collaboration, a partnership created in response to a global need for networking, communicating, and collaborating among autism groups. This program is housed at ARI; Stephen M. Edelson, ARI director, is the president.


ARI is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Almost all ARI operations and initiatives are funded by private donations. More than 80 cents of every dollar donated to ARI goes directly to programs and research projects.[17]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., on the ABA controversy
  2. ^ ARI's work
  3. ^ Biomedical Treatments for Autism from the Autism Research Institute
  4. ^ Biomedical Approach and Autism
  5. ^ Autism's impact on gastrointestinal, immunological, and neurological systems[page needed]
  6. ^ "Applied Behavior Analysis". Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  7. ^ FAQs about ARI
  8. ^ ARI FAQ
  9. ^ "Study finds gluten-free, casein-free diet has no impact". 19 May 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  10. ^ Pennesi, CM; Klein, LC. (2012). "Effectiveness of the gluten-free, casein-free diet for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder: based on parental report.". Nutr Neurosci. 2: 85-91. doi:10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000003. 
  11. ^ "Adverse reactions of pharmaceutical treatments". Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  12. ^ ARI-Funded Research Studies
  13. ^ ARI and NICHD Tissue Bank
  14. ^ Virués-Ortega, Javier (2010). "Applied behavior analytic intervention for autism in early childhood: Meta-analysis, meta-regression and dose–response meta-analysis of multiple outcomes". Clinical Psychology Review 30 (4): 387–99. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.008. PMID 20223569. 
  15. ^ ARI Moving Forward
  16. ^ "Support for adults with autism". Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  17. ^ "ARI's record on Charity Navigator". Retrieved 21 March 2014.