Bernard Rimland and Autism

Sometimes I buy used books and resell them at http://www.amazon.com/shops/mikeneedsakidneydotcom.

The other day I bought an interesting book:  “Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior,” written by Bernard Rimland and published in 1964.  Someone bought it as soon as I put it on amazon, so I just had a chance to briefly skim through it.

Rimland was one of the first researchers to state that autism was a neurological disorder.  He also founded the Autism Research Institute and the Autism Society of America.  Rimland was one of the first researchers to advocate biomedical treatments that have improved the symptoms of countless children and adults with autism.  He also served as the chief technical advisor on the movie “Rain Man.”

According to Wikipedia, Rimland’s book “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.”

I picked out a few interesting quotes from the book.

“Many writers consider the child’s hostility or indifference to his parents as evidence that the parents are guilty of causing the disease…It would seem more reasonable to regard the child’s actions as ‘symptoms,’ not as symptoms of etiology.  In the case of the adult who insists that he is being persecuted by the Communists, one does not take his statements at face value but only as an indication that he is ill.”

So Rimland was saying that doctors who blamed parents for their children’s autism were wrong, just as those who blamed parents for their children’s mental illnesses were wrong.  Believe it or not, as recently as the 1970s much of the medical establishment believed that autism as well as mental illnesses were the result of the coldness of the mother, which obviously is anything but the case.  But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that this view was debunked, so Rimland, writing in the early 1960s, was ahead of his time.

It makes you wonder what else the medical establishment is wrong about, and it goes to show that you shouldn’t just blindly follow it.   If you’re a parent of a child with autism now, imagine how bad it must have been back then if doctors had told you that your child’s autism was your fault.

Another quote from the book talked about how rare autism was at the time:  “The extreme rarity of the disease is attested to by the fact that Kanner himself who is reported to have seen over 20,000 disturbed children in his more than thirty years of psychiatric practice, had by 1958 seen fewer than 150 cases of early infantile autism.  This includes children brought to him for diagnosis from all parts of the world.”

We know now, 45 years after the publication of this book, that there is an autism epidemic that is attributable to much more than an expansion of the diagnostic criteria.  I myself have met hundreds of children with severe autism in the Washington, DC area, and I’m sure I’ve only met a tiny fraction of all the kids with severe autism in this area.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 150 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Finally, Rimland said, “Most writers regard the children as quite agile and graceful…the children who do use their hands are remarkably dexterous.”  He describes their “fast and graceful movements” and “excellent motor coordination.”  In fact, a majority of children with autism now have very poor motor skills and coordination, so that shows that at least in this respect the disorder has worsened, and some type of trigger has resulted in children with autism having worse motor skills than before.

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