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Bernard Rimland (second from right) in front of the Autism Research Institute (ARI)
November 15, 1928|
Cleveland, OH, U.S.
|Died||November 21, 2006
San Diego, California, U.S.
|Institutions||Autism Research Institute
Autism Society of America
Defeat Autism Now!
|Alma mater||San Diego State University (Bachelor's)
Pennsylvania State University (PhD)
|Known for||Autism: researched causes, epidemic, the thiomersal theory, and biomedical treatment.|
|Notable awards||National Vaccine Information Center's Courage in Science Award (2002)|
Based in San Diego, California since 1940, Rimland was the founder, in 1967, and director of the Autism Research Institute (ARI), and founder of the Autism Society of America (ASA), in 1965. Rimland was long an internationally recognized authority on autism spectrum disorders, and was the father of a high-functioning autistic son.
Education and early career
Rimland's son, Mark, was born in 1956, when autism was a rare and poorly-described diagnosis. From birth, however, something was drastically wrong. Rimland had recently earned his doctorate, but was not yet familiar with the word autism. Only much later was it determined Mark's condition fell into the category of early infantile autism, rather than regressive autism. Despite challenges, Mark became a talented artist.
After his son's diagnosis, Rimland set forth on a quest to understand autism and bring much needed attention to the disorder, in order to foster research into its causes and treatment. Rimland has often sparked controversy along his way.
Rimland published his book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior, in 1964. Its foreword, by Leo Kanner, the man who first identified autism as a syndrome, gave the book credibility among professionals in the field. It was an about-turn for Kanner, the originator of the word "autism" and of the "refrigerator mother" theory; through his observations and research, Kanner had come to believe that autism had a neurological cause—the accepted view in the medical profession today. But at the time Rimland's book was published,and for many years afterwards, a common theory was that autism was caused by unloving 'refrigerator mothers', an unproven but widely accepted idea most famously propounded by University of Chicago professor Bruno Bettelheim, notably in his book The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self (1967), which claimed that the traumatized unloved child retreated into autism. As a professional research psychologist, Rimland was well positioned to launch the first major attack on Bettelheim's theory. Rimland's was the first authoritative voice to dispute Bettelheim's research and call into question his conclusions.
Parents from all over the United States, excited that for the first time a professional in the field did not accuse them of maltreating their autistic child, began to write to Rimland. He called a meeting in Teaneck, New Jersey, at the house of one of the families, and this small group of parents, including Ruth C. Sullivan (first president of the ASA), became the nucleus that founded the Autism Society of America.
Conflicts with medical opinion
Many senior figures in medicine and psychology questioned Rimland's contributions to autism during the later period of his career. In 1995, Bennett Leventhal, a professor at the University of Chicago, tersely dismissed as "rubbish" Rimland's concern about the rise in autism diagnoses, and his assertion that vaccinations might be among the causes. Rimland was among a minority of researchers who believed that thiomersal (a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines) was a direct cause of autism. The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its 2004 report found that, "the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism." The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), National Health Service (NHS), World Health Organization (WHO), European Medicines Agency (EMEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and many other national and international medical organizations have issued statements of a similar nature, finding no link between autism and thimerosal based on the evidence currently available from a variety of studies.
Rimland's book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior (1964), is credited by many with changing the prevailing view of autism, in the field of psychiatry, from an emotional illness -widely thought to be caused by refrigerator mothers - to the current recognition that autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder.
A brush with Hollywood
Rimland lectured on autism and related problems throughout the world, including before thousands of professional groups, and he was the author of numerous publications. His high profile, within what was then a small community of autism activists, caught the eye of movie producers in nearby Hollywood, California.
Rimland subsequently served as the primary technical advisor on autism for the 1988 movie Rain Man. Mark Rimland was interviewed by Dustin Hoffman, serving as one of several models for the character portrayed by the movie star. The movie helped establish worldwide awareness of autism, just when the prevalence of autism was first becoming apparent.
Rimland was the editor of the Autism Research Review International, published by ARI, which covers biomedical and educational advances in autism research.
Rimland and his wife, Gloria, before Rimland's death in 2006, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple was married by Rabbi Monroe Levens of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, which was then located in Kensington, California.
- Carey, Benedict (November 28, 2006). "Bernard Rimland, 78, Scientist Who Revised View of Autism, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "Psychologist researcher into autism who overturned the theory that it was a reaction to bad parenting". The Independent, London. November 28, 2006. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Maugh, Thomas (November 26, 2006). "Bernard Rimland, 78; author was the father of modern autism". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- 1964 Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior - written after his son, Mark, was diagnosed as autism.
- 1976 Modern Therapies (with Virginia Binder, A. Binder)
- 1998 Biological Treatments for Autism and PDD (with William Shaw, Lisa Lewis, Bruce Semon)
- 2001 Tired - so Tired!: And the "Yeast Connection" (with William Crook, Cynthia Crook)
- 2003 Vaccines, Autism and Childhood Disorders: Crucial Data That Could Save Your Child's Life (with Neil Z. Miller)
- 2003 Treating Autism: Parent Stories of Hope and Success (with Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.)
- 2006 Recovering Autistic Children (originally published as Treating Autism) Second Edition (with Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.)
- Autism.org - Center for the Study of Autism
- Autisme.net - 'The Autism Explosion', Bernard Rimland, PhD
-  - Autism Research Institute
- Autism-Society.org - 'ASA: The Voice of Autism' (Autism Society of America homepage)
- PBS.org - 'P.O.V. - Refrigerator Mothers'
- SDJewishJournal.com - 'Dr. Bernard Rimland is autism's worst enemy: Devastated by his child's diagnosis decades ago, Rimland is dedicated to destroying the developmental disorder', by Patricia Morris Buckley (2003)