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Published Obituaries and Articles About Dr. Rimland

TIME Magazine
Milestones section, December 11, 2006

Bernard Rimland: Psychologist researcher into autism who overturned the theory that it was a reaction to bad parenting
The Independent, London, November 28, 2006

Bernard Rimland, 78, Scientist Who Revised View of Autism
By BENEDICT CAREY (NYT); National Desk, Late Edition - Final, Section A, Page 21, Column 5, 686 words (subscription or purchase required), November 28, 2006, Tuesday

Bernard Rimland, 78; author was the father of modern autism research
By Thomas H. Maugh II, LATimes Staff Writer, November 26, 2006

Bernard Rimland; psychologist 'ended the dark ages of autism'
By Jack Williams, Union-Tribune Staff Writer, November 22, 2006

Autism World Loses A Giant: Bernard Rimland

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, October 2002


TIME Magazine December 11, 2006

Milestones section

DIED. Bernard Rimland, 78, psychologist who pioneered modern autism research and advocacy and founded the Autism Society of America; in El Cajon, Calif. In 1958 Rimland diagnosed autism in his 2-year-old-son Mark with the help of a college textbook. The personal discovery led to a professional crusade. "This was war," he later wrote. In 1964, he published Infantile Autism, a landmark book that argued autism had biochemical roots and upended the then conventional wisdom that it was a child's response to 'refrigerator mothers" who didn't show adequate affection. An adviser to the makers of Rain Man - his son was a model for Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning 1988 turn as an autistic savant - Rimland also controversially claimed metals like mercury could trigger autism and vitamins could help treat it.


Psychologist researcher into autism who overturned the theory that it was a reaction to bad parenting

Published: 28 November 2006

The Independent, London

Bernard Rimland, psychologist: born Cleveland, Ohio 15 November 1928; Founder, Autism Society of America 1965; Founder, Autism Research Institute 1967; married 1951 Gloria Alf (two sons, one daughter); died San Diego, California 21 November 2006. The psychologist Bernard Rimland was a tireless researcher who brought hope to thousands of autistic children and their parents, destroying the myth, once prevalent, that autism was an emotional disorder caused by "refrigerator mothers".

Despite having taken a degree in Psychology at San Diego State University, followed by a PhD in Experimental Psychology at Pennsylvania State University, Rimland had never come across the term "autism" when his first son, Mark, was born, with obvious developmental problems, in 1956. As he told me many years later, We had no idea what was going on. Our paediatrician was totally baffled. Then my wife Gloria remembered reading in one of my college textbooks about a child wandering around, staring into space, not recognising people and so forth; we looked it up and there was the word "autism". Although the term had been coined by Eugen Beiler in 1911, the first clinical description of autism, by Leo Kanner, only dated from 1943, and in the Fifties the condition was still rare and poorly understood.

As soon as his son was diagnosed, Rimland threw himself into what became a lifelong quest to research the whole range of what are now called "autism spectrum disorders". He soon found himself in direct conflict with the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who believed that autism was a reaction to bad parenting. Bettelheim eventually expounded this damaging thesis in his 1967 book The Empty Fortress. Meanwhile, determined to disprove Bettelheim, Rimland scoured all the available research literature, finding not a scrap of evidence to support the theory. His own book Infantile Autism: the syndrome and its implications for a neural theory of behavior (1964) insisted that autism was a biological disorder which could be treated - or at least ameliorated - with biomedical and behavioural therapies. For the rest of his life Rimland devoted every spare moment to amassing a vast database of research and case histories, founding the Autism Society of America in 1965 and the Autism Research Institute (ARI) in 1967. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the treatment of autistic children was his championing of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) - an educational approach pioneered by the Norwegian psychologist Ivar Lovaas at UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles). Based on a series of drills, starting with very simple instructions, building up to successively more complex instructions, punctiliously rewarding success at every stage, the method has helped many autistic children not only to gain the first rudiments of language, but also to begin to understand normal social behaviour. One-to-one ABA teaching has helped many autistic children - particularly the higher functioning ones - to progress from home education or special units to mainstream education, and now has wide acceptance in the professional autism world. Rimland's views on the biological causes - and biomedical treatments - of autism remain more controversial. He always acknowledged the likelihood of a genetic component in autism spectrum disorders. However, he was also convinced that, with many children, this genetic susceptibility was triggered by external insults. When I last spoke to him, he cited three main categories: environmental pollutants such as agricultural products, car emissions and food colourings; antibiotics destroying beneficial bacteria and giving rise to candida; and, most controversially, "medical pollution" from vaccinations. He was convinced that thimerasol - the mercury-based preservative used in the DPT triple jab (against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) - was a likely cause of autism.

He also supported the demonised gastronterologist Andrew Wakefield's suggestion that the interaction of live viruses in the MMR injection (against measles, mumps and rubella) could be another cause of autism, pointing out the huge increase of late-onset autism during the 1980s, when MMR was introduced. After retiring from his post as a naval psychologist in 1985, Rimland spent all his time, seven days a week, in the Autism Research Institute office at his home in San Diego. Amassing over 37,000 case histories, he insisted that there had a been vast increase in the incidence of autism. The standard riposte - that doctors have become more aware of the condition and better at diagnosing it - cut no ice with him. Testifying before the House Committee on Government Reform in April 2000, he stated, "That is nonsense. Any paediatrician, teacher or school official with 20 or more years experience will confirm . . . [that] there is a real increase in autism and the numbers are rising." His views on biomedical treatments were equally controversial. He advocated vitamin supplements - in particular large doses of vitamin B6 with magnesium - and, for some children, gluten- and casein-free diets. Many medical professionals dismissed his ideas as cranky theories lacking any supporting evidence; but thousands of parents thought differently, or at the very least found that diet and supplements seemed to make the lives of their autistic children easier. Parents' evidence can always be dismissed as being unreliably subjective; nevertheless, Rimland's basic theory, and that of other researchers in the field - that many autistic children have weak immune systems and digestive systems which make them both vulnerable to environmental insults and poor at absorbing nutrients - does make a lot of sense. His mission was to find ways of treating that fragility. Rimland was expert adviser to the Hollywood movie Rain Man (1988). Although Dustin Hoffman's brilliant performance as the uncannily numerate autistic savant left many people with the assumption that all autists must be brilliant mathematicians, artists or musicians - only a tiny minority actually have those "savant" skills - the film did at least make the public much more aware of autism in general. For Rimland, Hollywood was just a brief diversion from the work of the ARI, from where he trawled the world's research papers, amassing a vast database on every aspect of autism research and sharing new discoveries in his quarterly newsletter. He often worked late into the night, answering letters and e-mails from parents, or discussing treatments on the telephone, always ready to share information and fanatical to the end in his quest to keep exploring the autism spectrum disorders about which so much is still unknown. His son Mark grew up to become a successful artist, and Rimland and his wife had another son, Paul, and a daughter, Helen. Stephen Venables


Bernard Rimland, 78; author was the father of modern autism

By Thomas H. Maugh II

LATimes Staff Writer November 26, 2006

Bernard Rimland, the San Diego research psychologist widely considered the father of modern autism research, died Tuesday at a care facility in El Cajon after a prolonged battle against prostate cancer. He was 78. Rimland's 1964 book "Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior," demolished the generally held view that autism was the psychological byproduct of "refrigerator mothers" - cold, unfeeling women who forced their children to withdraw into a protective shell of indifference. He concluded instead that the disorder, characterized by poor language skills and an inability to handle social relations, was the result of a fundamental biochemical defect underlain, perhaps, by defective genes but ultimately triggered by environmental assaults.

Rimland was among the first to conclude that the United States was undergoing an epidemic of autism, one that increased the incidence of the disorder from a rare one case in several thousand births to the current government-accepted rate of one in every 175 children. He concluded that mercury in vaccines was the primary culprit in this increase and led a vociferous campaign among parents to have the heavy metal - used to kill contaminating bacteria - removed from the vaccines. The campaign had only limited success, in part because governmental and medical authorities disagreed with his conclusion. Rimland was also a forceful advocate for intensive behavioral therapy for autistic children, a therapy that many claim has restored their children to normality. Along the way, he founded the Autism Society of America, the largest parent-based autism organization in the country, with more than 100,000 members and supporters and 200 local chapters. "I consider Dr. Rimland the 'grand godfather' of the movement for the understanding of the biological treatment of autism," Dr. Jaquelyn McCandless wrote in her book "Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder." Added Lee Grossman, president and chief executive officer of the Autism Society, "No one has done more for autism than our founder, Bernie, and all in the autism community have been profoundly touched and have benefited through his decades of passion and dedication to our cause." That was not the career path he had planned.

Bernard Rimland was born Nov. 15, 1928, in Cleveland. The family moved to San Diego when he was 12 so his father could take a wartime metalworking job with Convair. He immediately fell in love with the city. "Cleveland had been muggy and dirty," he recalled in an interview. "I got here and said, 'This is heaven. I'm never leaving.' " He earned an undergraduate degree and a master's in psychology at San Diego State University before leaving the state briefly to obtain a doctorate at Pennsylvania State University. He married Gloria Belle Alf, the sister of a childhood friend, in 1951, two years before receiving his doctoral degree. After his graduation, the couple returned to San Diego, where he took a position with the personnel measurement research department at the Point Loma Naval Station. Their life changed dramatically with the birth of their son Mark in 1956. Mark was a difficult, nearly unmanageable child. When Mark was 2, Rimland used one of his wife's college textbooks to diagnose him as autistic - a diagnosis soon confirmed by their pediatrician. Despite his doctorate in psychology, Rimland had never heard of autism before, and he plunged into the scientific literature. The medical community, based largely on the work of behavioral scientist Bruno Bettelheim, still blamed mothers for the disorder. Knowing that his wife was not cold and distant, Rimland began looking for an alternative explanation, visiting libraries throughout the country, interviewing doctors and taking copious notes. "When I started my quest, autism was no less than an obsession," he later wrote. "I quickly read everything I could find on the subject and hungered for more. This was war." After five years of research, he had a massive stack of papers. His wife told him he didn't have a research paper but a book. The 1964 book was initially ignored by the medical establishment but was highly popular with psychology students. More important, it was a hit with parents of autistic children, and they soon began bombarding him with letters and phone calls. After a full day of work for the Navy, he would spend evenings and weekends responding to the inquiries. "So many parents have stories about calling him and talking for two or three hours," Grossman said. "He always had encouraging remarks, and he always had very good advice." In 1967, he started what is now known as the Autism Research Institute, which still resides in a modest storefront on Adams Avenue in the Kensington area of San Diego. The office is stacked with books, newsletters, videos, boxes of research papers and piles of correspondence. After he retired from the Navy 23 years ago, Rimland spent all his time in the office, except for the weeks he traveled the world, preaching the gospel of autism research and therapy.

The official office hours were 8 a.m. to noon, but Rimland was there afternoons, evenings and weekends, talking to parents, writing reports, organizing conferences, working on books and answering the questions of reporters. On one wall of the office is a poster for the Oscar-winning film "Rain Man," which highlighted autism for a public that was largely unaware of the disorder. Rimland served as a technical advisor for the film, and Dustin Hoffman modeled his performance, in part, on Mark Rimland. The papers "truly represent one man's life work," Grossman said. "If he had any other interests, other than his family, he never talked about it." In addition to his wife, Rimland is survived by his son Mark, now a well-known artist; another son, Paul; and a daughter, Helen.

[email protected] source:,1,276316.story


Bernard Rimland; psychologist 'ended the dark ages of autism'

By Jack Williams

November 22, 2006

Bernard Rimland, a psychologist whose unremitting quest for answers to autism opened a new era of treatment and hope for victims of the brain disorder, died of cancer yesterday. He was 78.

Dr. Rimland, executive director and founder of the Autism Research Institute in Kensington, died at Victoria Special Care in El Cajon, said Jean Walcher, a spokeswoman for the family.

In challenging the once-prevailing theory that the condition stemmed from a mother's subconscious rejection of her child, Dr. Rimland found that autism was a biological disorder. His evidence was outlined in his seminal book, “Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior,” published in 1964.

“Dr. Rimland will go down in history as the person who ended the dark ages of autism and spearheaded the fight to bring hope and help to autistic children,” said Dr. Stephen M. Edelson, his successor at the helm of the Autism Research Institute.

As the father of an autistic son, Mark, born in 1956, Dr. Rimland began to exhaustively research what at the time was a mystery to parents as well as the medical profession.

In so doing, he once noted, there is “not a shred of evidence” to support the hypothesis that indifferent parenting caused the disorder.

In 1967, while employed as a Navy psychologist, Dr. Rimland founded his nonprofit institute a block from his home to create an international source of research and information for biomedical treatments. When he retired from his Navy job in 1985, he devoted the rest of his life to autism research.

“Now I spend 80 hours a week on autism,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1998.

“He was the pioneer who changed everything about the way autism is viewed; parents and professionals owe him everything,” said Chantal Sicile-Kira, an autism author and activist who has a 17-year-old son with the disorder.

“Bernie was like a god to parents like me,” Sicile-Kira said. “He's revered all over the world for moving forward biomedical interventions through research.”

Dr. Rimland created the National Society for Autistic Children, now known as the Autism Society of America, to bring together parents of children with autism and to promote a treatment known as Applied Behavior Analysis. The latter, pioneered by psychologist Ivar Lavaas, has proved successful as the educational treatment of choice for autistic children.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one in 166 Americans 21 or younger is afflicted with autism, which affects children in different ways.

The variety of symptoms include withdrawal from human contact, sensory confusion, parrotlike speech, a compulsion for sameness and a repetitive self-stimulating behavior such as tapping teeth.

Sometimes the symptoms are accompanied by extraordinary talents, as in the case of the autistic savant portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 Academy Award-winning movie “Rain Man,” for which Dr. Rimland was a technical adviser.

The effort spawned annual conferences on both coasts, major research projects, a treatment manual and hundreds of DAN!-trained physicians.

Dr. Rimland also reached parents and professionals as editor of a newsletter, Autism Research Review International, updating readers on treatments and research.

He was at the forefront of the controversial concept of vitamin therapy to address autism, particularly high doses of B6. More than 20 studies show that B6, typically combined with magnesium, benefits a large percentage of autistic children, according to the Autism Research Institute.

Equally controversial was his suggestion that child vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative that is nearly 50 percent mercury, could promote autism. His suspicions grew when he discovered that symptoms of autism bear many similarities to the symptoms of mercury poisoning.

“Bernie wasn't afraid to have people say, 'Gosh, this guy's nuts; it's a crazy idea,' ” Sicile-Kira said. “He felt that if it could be validated by research it's worth trying so long as it's not going to hurt somebody.”

Dr. Rimland, a San Diegan since 1940, was born Nov. 15, 1928, in Cleveland.

In the early 1950s, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in experimental psychology at San Diego State College. He received a doctorate in the discipline in 1954 from Pennsylvania State University.

As a research psychologist in the Navy, he designed tests to measure a recruit's aptitude for various jobs. In 1955, he became an adjunct professor in psychology at San Diego State.

When he became a first-time father in 1956, he began to seek solutions and answers to his son's behavior.

“Mark was a screaming, implacable infant who resisted being cuddled and struggled against being picked up. He also struggled against being put down,” he later wrote.

After finding no psychological basis for the disorder in his research, he devoted his free time to studying neuropsychology in an effort to understand the physiological factors. His quest led to the manuscript for “Infantile Autism,” which received the Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology before it was published as a book.

Once the book was published, he was inundated with letters and calls from parents.

“I will never stop until I have found the answer or die, whichever comes first,” he told The San Diego Union in 1988. “I will find the answer, and if living to be 150 is what it takes – I'll do that, too.”

In recent months, as he fought cancer that originally was diagnosed in the prostate, Dr. Rimland was forced to reduce his workload. By the end of July, he was doing what work he could from his home.

Survivors include his wife, Gloria; sons, Mark Rimland and Paul Rimland, both of San Diego; daughter, Helen Landalf of Seattle; and two grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Greenwood Memorial Park, 4300 Imperial Ave., San Diego.

Donations are suggested to The Autism Research Institute, 4182 Adams Ave., San Diego, CA 92116.

Jack Williams: (619) 542-4587; [email protected]


Autism World Loses A Giant: Bernard Rimland

Autistic children and their parents said goodbye to their best friend and greatest champion on Tuesday, November 21st when Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder and director of the Autism Research Institute, passed away at the age of 78.

Dr. Stephen M. Edelson, who is assuming the position of Director of ARI, says, “Dr. Rimland will go down in history as the person who ended the ‘dark ages’ of autism and spearheaded the fight to bring hope and help to autistic children. When he began his work in the field of autism in the 1960s, psychiatrists blamed parents for their children’s autism, institutionalized those children, and ‘treated’ them by drugging them into submission. Today, autistic children receive effective educational interventions and biomedical treatments that bring about dramatic improvement and often even recovery. At every step of this revolution, Dr. Rimland led the way—and at every step, he had to fight tooth-and-nail against an establishment determined to maintain the status quo.”

Dr. Rimland’s forty years of work on behalf of autistic children began with a single child: his own son, Mark Rimland, born in 1956. In the most recent version of the DAN!® treatment manual, Dr. Rimland wrote, “Mark was a screaming, implacable infant who resisted being cuddled and struggled against being picked up. He also struggled against being put down. Our pediatrician, Dr. Black, who had been in practice for 35 years, had never seen nor heard of a child like Mark. Neither Dr. Black nor I, who at that time was three years beyond my Ph.D. in psychology, had ever seen or heard the word ‘autism.’”

It wasn’t until Mark turned two that Dr. Rimland’s wife, Gloria, remembered reading in college about children with symptoms like their child’s. Digging through a dusty box of Gloria’s textbooks in the garage, Dr. Rimland saw the word “autism” for the first time. That discovery was the first step in a quest that covered nearly half a century.

Dr. Rimland’s battle to help autistic children began in the early 1960s, when psychoanalysis reigned and professionals believed that autism stemmed from a “refrigerator mother’s” subconscious rejection of her child. Treatments, prescribed by leading authority Bruno Bettelheim and other psychoanalysts, included having children kick and spit on statues representing their mothers.

Knowing that Mark was a greatly loved child and that the “refrigerator mother” theory was both wrong and destructive, Dr. Rimland set out to discover all that was known about autism. He scoured libraries for articles on autism, including foreign articles he had translated, and found, as he noted later, “not a shred of evidence” to support the hypothesis that bad parenting caused autism.

What he discovered, instead, was powerful evidence that autism was a biological disorder—a fact that seems obvious now, but was revolutionary at the time. He outlined this evidence in his seminal book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior, published in 1964. The book changed the autism world forever: it won the Century Award for distinguished contribution to psychology and, as one reporter put it, “blew Bettelheim’s theory all to hell.” For parents, the nightmare of being blamed for their children’s terrifying disorder was over.

Most people would be content to rest on their laurels at that point, but Dr. Rimland was barely getting warmed up. He’d revolutionized an entire field, but he still had no way to help his own son. So he formed the National Society for Autistic Children (NSAC), now known as the Autism Society of America. Through this group, parents of children with autism—a very rare disorder, at the time—could offer each other moral support and practical advice about which therapies worked and which didn’t.

Dr. Rimland started ASA in large part to promote “behavior modification” (now known as Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA), a treatment then being pioneered by a very controversial young psychologist named Ivar Lovaas. Authorities in the autism field scoffed at Lovaas’s claim that autistic children could be helped by something as simple and straightforward as behavior modification, but Dr. Rimland spread the word through NSAC and parents began fighting for this therapy for their children. Today, of course, ABA is the educational treatment of choice for autistic children, and many autistic children who receive early ABA improve dramatically.

Dr. Rimland knew, however, that educational treatments alone could not adequately address a devastating biological disorder such as autism. In 1967, he started the nonprofit Autism Research Institute in order to create a worldwide research center and clearinghouse for biomedical treatments (which barely existed at the time). In 1985, he retired from his career as a psychologist for the Navy to devote the remainder of his life to autism research.

The first treatment Dr. Rimland investigated, based on reports from parents of autistic children, was high-dose vitamin B6. Other authorities in the autism field considered the idea that a vitamin could correct a brain disorder to be preposterous, but time and research proved them wrong. To date, 22 studies (including 13 double-blind studies) show that vitamin B6, typically combined with magnesium, benefits a large percentage of autistic children.

“One of the most remarkable things about Dr. Rimland,” says Dr. Edelson, “is that he realized in the early days that parents held many of the keys to solving the mystery of autism. From day one, he listened to them and respected them—and he followed their lead. If five or six parents reported, ‘DMG makes my child much better,’ he didn’t ignore them; instead, he organized a study to see if other children responded the same way. For a professional psychologist, even one who was the parent of an autistic child, this was a revolutionary viewpoint—and it’s a key reason why ARI has always led the way in identifying new treatments and uncovering the roots of autism.”

One important clue contributed by parents of autistic children put ARI squarely in the middle of a huge controversy: the debate about the safety of vaccines. Early in his work, Dr. Rimland received many reports of children who had no disability before receiving DPT vaccinations. As time went on, the number of reports snowballed, and included other vaccines. At the same time, as the number of vaccines received by children grew, autism rates began climbing relentlessly. When Dr. Rimland learned that most childhood vaccines contained thimerosal—a preservative that is nearly 50% mercury, a powerful neurotoxin—he realized that the escalating numbers of vaccines given to children could be the culprit behind skyrocketing rates of autism. His suspicions grew when he discovered that the symptoms of autism bear many similarities to the symptoms of mercury poisoning.

The medical establishment, not surprisingly, expressed great antagonism toward this theory. They turned a blind eye as well to strong evidence implicating wheat and milk proteins, persistent measles infection in the gut from MMR vaccines, and other environmental factors in causing or exacerbating autism. And they continued to scorn biomedical treatments, even when hundreds and eventually thousands of parents reported that these treatments worked – often dramatically. So Dr. Rimland began yet another new project, this time aimed at quickly identifying causes of autism and promoting the safe and effective treatments that mainstream medicine refused to investigate.

To accomplish this mission he created the evidence-based medical approach (DAN!®) project, jump-starting the project in 199- by bringing together dozens of the world’s leading researchers in different fields to create a state-of-the-art treatment plan and prioritize research goals. This small first meeting grew into a worldwide DAN! movement that now includes huge standing-room-only conferences, major research projects, a treatment manual, and hundreds of DAN!-trained physicians. A happy offshoot of this massive effort is the “Recovered Autistic Children” project, in which parents whose children improve or even recover because of DAN!-oriented treatment are spreading the word that “autism is treatable.” Dr. Rimland and Dr. Edelson also collaborated on Recovering Autistic Children, a book of stories about children who improved or recovered as a result of DAN!-oriented treatment.

In addition to these projects, Dr. Rimland served as a technical advisor for Rainman, the Academy-Award-winning film that introduced millions of moviegoers to the world of the autistic savant. As editor of the Autism Research Review International, now in its twentieth year of publication, he also provided parents and professionals with crucial information about autism treatments and research—as well as with his trademark editorials, often scorching in their condemnation of established medicine’s failure to help autistic children.

Dr. Rimland achieved worldwide fame and a reputation as a giant in his field, and his friends ranged from Hollywood stars to national media figures. Yet unlike many professionals, he didn’t know the meaning of an “ivory tower.” In his few free moments each day, he responded to letters, phone calls, faxes, and emails from thousands of distraught parents around the world. His vast network of friends knew him as an extraordinarily generous soul and an irrepressible “yenta,” whose greatest joy lay in bringing strangers together for the benefit of all. He was also a soft touch, incapable of saying “no” to any worthwhile cause—no matter how large or small. (The San Diego branch of the Autism Society was probably the only chapter whose Christmas party once featured an internationally-renowned autism researcher playing Santa Claus.) How did Dr. Rimland find time to juggle enough huge projects for ten lifetimes, and also help out every friend (or stranger) who needed a hand? He spent seven days a week in his office. Some nights, he slept on the office floor. And everyone who worked with him knew that if the phone rang at 10 p.m., it was Dr. Rimland with another idea – often an earth-shaking one. (Not all of his ideas and interests involved autism. He owned several patents for inventions, and was an inveterate “tinkerer.”)

Dr. Rimland’s remarkable wife, Gloria, gracefully handled his nearly-impossible schedule while keeping a home with three children running smoothly. The autism community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Gloria Rimland for the inspiration and moral support she provided Dr. Rimland throughout the years – as well as her willingness to share her husband with an entire world of “autism parents.” The autism world sends its deep condolences to Gloria and to their children, Mark, Paul, and Helen.

“Our community is greatly diminished by the loss of Dr. Rimland,” says Dr. Edelson. “His legacy, however, will live on in the work of ARI and the DAN! project – and in the joy of families whose children, dismissed as ‘hopeless’ and ‘incurable’ by the medical establishment, are now leading happy, healthy, productive lives. It’s exactly the legacy that Dr. Rimland would want.


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

San Diego Jewish Journal
October 2002

To the casual passerby, the small storefront office on Adams Avenue in Kensington appears closed in the late afternoon. The blinds are drawn, the lights are out and the door is shut. Official office hours for the Autism Research Institute are 8 a.m. to noon.

Yet, on the other side of the door, there is a flurry of activity. The phone rings constantly. Parent after parent leaves messages begging for information. Researchers and clinicians from all over the world call seeking input and confirmation. Faxes come in with orders for books, newsletters and videos.

The office shows the wear and tear of this activity. There are papers everywhere, some in neatly stacked and labeled piles, others in overflowing boxes. Every square inch of the wall space is covered with photos of famous people, including one of the film Rain Man signed by actor Dustin Hoffman.

Sitting calmly in the center of all this is the man who people are calling from all around the world to reach - Dr. Bernard Rimland. What makes this scene even more amazing is that Rimland, now 73, has been retired for 17 years. And yet this bearded, grandfatherly man with graying hair works weekends, holidays and evenings - he never seems to stop working, except to spend time with his family.

When Rimland's son Mark was born 46 years ago - and diagnosed with autism - Dr. Rimland set off on an impassioned quest to discover the cause of the developmental disorder and to locate any emerging treatments. That odyssey led him to become one of the most known, revered and controversial figures in the fight against autism, a perspective that varies widely depending on whom you speak to. He has written a landmark book (Infantile Autism, 1964), spoken to thousands of professional groups, founded several organizations (including The Autism Research Institute and evidence-based medical approach, as well as the Autism Society of America), mentored many authors and comforted thousands of concerned parents.

"I consider Dr. Rimland the 'grand godfather' of the movement for understanding the biological treatment of autism," writes Dr. Jaquelyn McCandless, MD, in her book Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder. "[His] willingness to share information about autism's biological nature and ways to help our children affected by autism merits respect and appreciation."

"Although Dr. Rimland is an internationally recognized authority on autism, he still takes time to talk to parents and professionals who need his assistance," writes Lynn Hamilton in her book Facing Autism: Giving Parents Reasons for Hope and Guidance for Help.

But some in the medical establishment have questioned Rimland's contributions to autism research. Bennett Leventhal, a professor of child psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, commented on Rimland's assertion that autism is increasing and that vaccinations might play a role in autism with a one-word response. "Rubbish," he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1995. While Rimland's assertion about increased cases of autism has proven correct, the vaccination debate rages on.

Yet Rimland perseveres. For the first 31 years of his autism advocacy, he devoted all his spare time to finding the true cause of this devastating neurological disorder and help for those who suffer from it. Once he "retired," his work on autism became a full-time crusade.

Now, after five decades, Rimland can look back at his quest and reflect on his journey, its highs and lows as well as the future of autism research.
The Path of a Fighter

Rimland's story is typical of an immigrant family. Rimland's mother and father both came from Russia after World War I. They met in Cleveland, Ohio, married and had a son and daughter (who died recently). Another world war caused the Rimlands to move, this time to San Diego, where his father had a metalworking job with Convair. From the minute he stepped off the train at age 12, Rimland fell in love with San Diego.

"Cleveland had been muggy and dirty," he recalls in a low, unassuming voice. "I got here and said, 'This is heaven, I'm never leaving.'"

He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, but "I've always had my own view of the world and religion," he says of his faith. "I'm a fiercely independent thinker. At this point, I would say that I am somewhat observant."

Despite his parents' disdain for higher education - they claimed college was "for the children of the rich" - his sister went on to get a Master's in education, while Rimland earned a Master's in psychology at SDSU, then capped that with a doctorate from Penn State in experimental psychology and research design.

Psychology wasn't his first choice. He initially wanted to be a writer or an engineer/inventor (he does hold five patents in various fields). When he took a class in psychology at SDSU during his undergraduate years, he became hooked on psychological testing and measurement on a scientific basis. His parents were unimpressed by his career choice.

How could a man, raised in a traditional blue-collar family, have chosen to go against his parents' wishes? It's as though he was born a fighter.

"My mother used to tell me about one of her brothers who was a mathematical genius," says Rimland. "During the war [World War I], an elderly Jewish gentleman was being harassed by German soldiers. My uncle interceded because he couldn't stand the injustice. The soldiers beat him and left him there, bleeding to death.

"My mother would finish this story by telling me, 'So don't be like him!' Instead, it inspired me to fight injustice."

After college, life seemed almost idyllic. He married Gloria, the sister of a childhood friend, in 1951 (they celebrated 50 years together last year). In 1953, he received his Ph.D. and landed a position in Pt. Loma with the Navy at its Personnel and Training Research Laboratory as the director of the Personnel Measurement Research Department.

Fascinated by how one determines what is true, or probably true, his position allowed him to delve into the methodology of behavioral science. This pursuit of objectivity carries with him to this day. Then in 1956, the Rimlands welcomed their first child, Mark, into the world. But after his birth, nothing would ever be the same again. While Rimland fought his parents over his future, he would soon fight the world over his son's.
A Father First

From the moment Mark was born, everyone noticed he was different," recalls Rimland. "He was always screaming at the top of his lungs and nothing would placate him. But no one knew what it was. The pediatricians threw up their hands."

Using one of Gloria's college textbooks, Bernard diagnosed his 2-year-old son Mark with infantile autism, a diagnosis soon confirmed by their pediatrician. This surprised Rimland, who, already five years past his graduate work in psychology, had never heard of this mysterious disorder.

Autism is a severely handicapping disorder that begins at birth or within the first 2 1/2 years of life. Affected children seem to retreat into a world of their own, making little contact with others - including their family. Autistic children often have delayed language (if they acquire it at all), repetitious behaviors, little eye contact and an aversion to social interaction. It's often called the "lost child syndrome."

Being a scientist, Rimland began studying the disorder, only to discover that the scientific community - mostly due to the work of influential childhood behaviorist Bruno Bettelheim - blamed autism on the mother. According to Bettelheim, cold and unfeeling "refrigerator mothers" caused normal children to retreat into their own world.

Knowing his wife to be a loving mother, Rimland found this claim to be ridiculous. Angered, he set out to uncover the truth. He visited libraries all over the country, depending on his near photographic memory in a day before copy machines were readily available. He had articles from other countries translated. He spoke to doctor after doctor.

Whenever a door would close, he would pound on doors until another opened. "When I started my quest, autism was no less than an obsession," he writes in The Modern History of Autism. "I quickly read everything I could find on the subject and hungered for more. This was war. I envisioned autism as a powerful monster that had seized my child. I could afford no errors."

After five years, his notes filled almost 400 pages. His wife told him he didn't have a paper, but a book. Rimland submitted it in a publishing contest for "distinguished contribution to psychology," and won. In 1964, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications revolutionized how science viewed autism. Instead of blaming the mother and looking no further, now science viewed autism as a cognitive disorder and began seeking its biological nature. While the medical community generally ignored the book at first, its popularity with psychology students made it a huge hit. A college librarian once told Rimland his book was the one most stolen book off the shelves. Today, it's considered a classic by doctors and psychologists.

After the publication of his book, hundreds of parents began contacting him in their search for answers concerning their children. Long after his workday at the Navy finished, he would answer letters and phone calls. In 1967, he founded the nonprofit Institute for Child Behavior Research (now the Autism Research Institute) to further distribute the latest information on autism research.

The ARI is a worldwide network of parents and professionals concerned with analyzing the scientific data for diagnosing, treating and preventing autism. It disseminates research findings to parents and publishes a quarterly newsletter that covers biological and educational advances in autism research. The newsletter is sent to more than 6,000 subscribers in 50 countries.

The response from parents has been enthusiastic gratitude. One of those is Josh Greenfield, father of an autistic child and author of A Child Called Noah. He writes, "Dr. Bernard Rimland perhaps has done more for the cause of autistic children in America than any other single person."
The Fight Continues

Today, Rimland is the father of three grown children (his daughter and younger son are not autistic). Retired, he now devotes all his energy to autism research. Among his many accomplishments is serving as the technical advisor to the Oscar-winning film Rain Man, which brought autism to the public's attention (his son, Mark, now an accomplished artist, was also one of the models for Dustin Hoffman's character).

Rimland has developed megavitamin therapy, and has explored and promoted other alternative autism treatments. But nothing has been easy. He's had to fight the medical establishment on everything from Applied Behavior Analysis, a behavior modification training, to vaccinations, which he believes contributes to the current increase in autism cases.

"The enormous increase in the number of mandatory vaccines children are required to have before the age of 2, rising from three in the 1940s to 22 today, is a major cause not only of autism and ADHD, but also of asthma, allergies and childhood diabetes," he contends. He also indicts nutritional and environmental pollution.

At one time, the medical community denied the existence of this increase. Dr. Eric Fombonne, in the journal Pediatrics, said that the sharp rise in cases is largely an illusion. He claimed that the increasing population and changes in diagnostic accuracy are the real culprits. Later, in the face of overwhelming statistics, Fombonne has now admitted the increase is real.

"It was only 10 years ago that autism was thought to be a rare disorder affecting only 1 in 10,000 persons," says Greg Fletcher, president of the San Diego Chapter of the Autism Society of America. "And just five years ago, researchers estimated that 1 in 500 individuals had autism. Today, researchers believe this number may be closer to 3 in 500. Which equates to as many as 1.5 million individuals in the United States that have some form of autism today. It is estimated that autism is increasing at the rate of 10 to 17 percent each year - faster than any disability or disease. At this rate, by the end of the decade, autism will surpass mental retardation as the most common developmental disability."

Despite the medical establishment's insistence that vaccinations play no part in increase in autism, Rimland stands firm in his belief. "The rational theory is that vaccines, which contain live viruses, mercury and other toxins, have caused the increase. There's no question this is controversial. You wouldn't expect the federal government, the American Medical Association or the American Pediatric Association, which have backed vaccinations for years, to agree. Their very reputation and credibility is at stake."

Instead of continuing to fight the medical community, Rimland took his message to the parents, who responded enthusiastically. And an interesting thing happened along the way - doctors with autistic children started coming to ARI for advice when the medical community couldn't help them. That's when he established evidence-based medical approach (DAN!®), which brings together physicians and scientists to develop advanced methods of diagnosis and treatment.

"The medical establishment has got to be dragged kicking and screaming into reality," he says of the opposition he faces in the medical community. "Physicians are trained to believe that drugs are the answers and anyone who believes otherwise is a quack. Now, many of these doctors are turning their backs on the medical establishment and using the DAN! approach. We're getting a lot of support from parents who are doctors."

For Rimland, the most important thing he can do is take his training in methodology and apply it to the field of autism. When reports of a new treatment arise, he quickly uses science to confirm its validity. "There are many, many treatments out there," he says. "Some are useless, but we have to find out which ones work. The government would want to take years to prove what works, but parents can't wait for years."

And that's what keeps him going. He describes himself as obsessed by autism, and one look at his office and the hours he keeps proves it. But even now, 40-plus years into the battle, he's not done yet.

"Not when more and more kids are improving," he says, almost matter-of-factly of his continued fight. "I'm pleased with our success. But the answer isn't here yet - the problem isn't solved. We're getting there. We've made bigger strides in the last five years than in the last 50. So we're obviously going in the right direction."

Dr. Rimland can be reached at the Autism Research Institute, 4182 Adams Ave., San Diego, CA 92116 or by calling (619) 563-6840 or visiting

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