Dr. Bernard Rimland passed away just a few days before this past Thanksgiving and will be mourned by many. At times controversial, always searching for answers, he changed the way autism was viewed worldwide. Those of us who knew him as Bernie will always feel a twinge of sorrow around this holiday, a reminder of how much we have to thank this pioneer who played David to the medical establishment’s Goliath. As research would prove, fighting Goliath was not a lost cause but a righteous endeavor.
The first time I heard Dr. Bernard Rimland’s name was the day after a visit with my son to a psychoanalyst for the only treatment on offer for autism in Paris at the time. The bookshelf in the waiting room included a few copies of ‘The Empty Fortress’ by Bruno Bettleheim, who believed that autism was a reaction to bad parenting and expounded the ‘refrigerator mother’ theory of autism.
Dr. Rimland’s book, ‘Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior’(1964), would have been a better choice in this psychoanalyst’s waiting room. In his book, Dr. Rimland lambasted the then generally held view that autism was a psychological disorder, brought on by cold and unloving parents. His conclusion was that autism was the result of biochemical defects underlain, perhaps, by a genetic predisposition, but ultimately triggered by environmental assaults. This book grew out of the research he did searching for answers when his son, Mark, born in 1956, displayed behaviors which are now easily recognizable as symptoms of autism but were rarely seen in those days.
The psychoanalyst I visited informed me that my son had autistic behaviors due to separation issues from breast feeding. This she gleaned form watching my son play with two round objects, and crawl across the floor in an attempt to retrieve one that he accidentally dropped. Following this Allen Woodyesque moment, and looking for some useful advice, I called an old friend and former colleague from a state hospital for the developmentally disabled in California. She gave me the telephone number for the Autism Research Institute, the non-profit founded by Dr.Bernard Rimland in 1967. Continue reading »