Autism Society of America

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Autism Society of America
FoundersBernard Rimland,[1] Ivar Lovaas, Ruth C. Sullivan, and others
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
HeadquartersBethesda, Maryland, United States
James Ball[2]
Scott Badesch[3]
SubsidiariesAutism Society of America Foundation[4]
Revenue (2013)
Expenses (2013)$2,378,089[4]
Employees (2013)
Volunteers (2013)
Formerly called
National Society for Autistic Children[5]

The Autism Society of America (ASA) was founded in 1965[6] by Bernard Rimland[1] and Ivar Lovaas together with Ruth C. Sullivan and a small group of other parents of children with autism. Its original name was the National Society for Autistic Children;[5] the name was changed to emphasize that children with autism grow up. The ASA's stated goal is to increase public awareness about autism and the day-to-day issues faced by people with autism as well as their families and the professionals with whom they interact.[7] The organization has promoted pseudoscience about austism, such as vaccine denialism.[8] One of its founders, Ivar Løvaas, promoted inhumane treatments for autism that involved beating autistic children and shocking them with cattle prods.


Ivar Løvaas[edit]

Ole Ivar Løvaas (8 May 1927 – 2 August 2010)[9][10] was a Norwegian-American clinical psychologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is most well-known for his research on behavior modification in children, particularly with the use of strong aversives such as electric shocks. Lovaas would shout at, beat, and apply electric shocks to autistic children (sometimes with a cattle prod) to punish then for displaying autistic behavior. He encouraged the children's families to do the same at home. Lovaas used the same techniques in attempt modify behavior in homosexuals and gender variant children. His experiments in the use of aversives to modify the behavior of a feminine male child may have caused the child's later suicide. Lovaas presided over several gay conversion camps, some of which are still in use today. He once lamented that he was not allowed to beat the autistic children harder, and only gave up the use of corporal punishment when pressed to do so by the authorities.

Lovaas' claimed that his methods could make 47% of autistic children "indistinguishable from their peers". However, later research challenged this statement and found serious flaws in his methodology. Lovaas also claimed that his methods could make many homosexuals "indistinguishable from their peers", but this claim was later disproved. Lovaas' research has been adapted to produce a variety of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) interventions for autistic children which call themselves the "Lovaas method", or "Early Intensive Behavior Intervention" (EIBI). While promoters of EIBI programs argue that they are highly effective in helping autistic children, the research used to justify these practices has been shown to have flaws. One study recommended that all programs labeled as EIBI be regarded with skepticism.[11]

Lovaas' techniques were not effective in modifying the behavior of gay and gender variant children, but were effective in modifying the behavior of autistic children. He is considered a pioneer of applied behavior analysis due to his development of discrete trial training (DTT).[12] Despite their efficacy in reducing autistic behaviors, the ethics of his methods have been questioned. Neurodiversity advocates have argued that the goal of reducing autistic behavior is misguided, and that it amounts to forcing autistic people to repress their true personalities on behalf of a narrow conception of normality. While the use of aversives to modify behavior is highly controversial, a number of facilities continue to use them. As of 2019, the Judge Rotenberg Center is the last remaining facility to use electric shocks to modify behavior in people with disabilities.

Bernard Rimland[edit]

Bernard Rimland (November 15, 1928 – November 21, 2006) was an American research psychologist, writer, lecturer, and influential person in the field of developmental disorders who is known for promoting austism-related pseudoscience. In 1964, Dr. Bernard Rimland wrote a book, Infantile Autism, that convinced others working in the field that autism is a physiological disorder, not a mental or emotional problem.[13] Rimland founded and directed two advocacy groups: the Autism Society of America and the Autism Research Institute.[14] He promoted several disproven theories about the causes and treatment of autism, including vaccine denial, facilitated communication, chelation therapy, and false claims of a link between secretin and autism.

Ruth C. Sullivan[edit]

Ruth C. Sullivan was the first elected president of the Autism Society of America. She is also on the permanent honorary board of the society. Ruth Sullivan was founder and former Executive Director of the Autism Services Center, a nonprofit licensed behavioral health care agency that she founded in Huntington, West Virginia in 1979. It now provides services in four counties to families who have a family member with developmental disabilities. She retired from the Autism Services Center on November 1, 2007 at the age of 83. Sullivan assisted in the production of the 1988 movie, Rain Man, by serving as a consultant on autistic behavior, and Dustin Hoffman worked with Sullivan and her son Joseph, who has autism, when practicing for his role.


  1. ^ a b "Some Key Dates in Autism History". The Washington Post July 1, 2008. p. F5.
  2. ^ "Board of Directors". Autism Society of America. Accessed on February 23, 2016.
  3. ^ "Staff". Autism Society of America. Accessed on February 23, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Autism Society of America. Guidestar. December 31, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Campbell, Susan. "A place for miracles? Institute offers option for autistic children". St. Petersburg Times. April 13, 1988.
  6. ^ "About the Autism Society". Autism Society. Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  7. ^ "Autism Organizations". Autism Key. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  8. ^ "Naturopaths and the anti-vaccine movement: Hijacking the law in service of pseudoscience". Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  9. ^ Autism Support Network.
  10. ^ Campbell, Victoria. Pioneer in autism treatment dies,
  11. ^ Gresham, F. M.; MacMillan, D. L. (February 1998). "Early Intervention Project: can its claims be substantiated and its effects replicated?". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 28 (1): 5–13. doi:10.1023/a:1026002717402. ISSN 0162-3257. PMID 9546297.
  12. ^ Smith, Tristram; Eikeseth, Svein (March 2011). "O. Ivar lovaas: pioneer of applied behavior analysis and intervention for children with autism". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 41 (3): 375–378. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1162-0. ISSN 1573-3432. PMID 21153872.
  13. ^ Krause, Audrie. "Authority on Autism Speaks from Experience: Doctor Began Research After His Son Was Diagnosed with Disorder 30 Years Ago". The Fresno Bee. November 18, 1987.
  14. ^ Carey, Benedict (November 28, 2006). "Bernard Rimland, 78, Scientist Who Revised View of Autism, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.

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