Bernard Rimland: Infantile Autism (1964-2014)

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of “Infantile Autism” by Bernard Rimland (see previous blog: This was “the” groundbreaking work that went against the prevailing psychoanalytic ideas espoused by the medical establishment and instead proposed a neurological causation.

It was Leo Kanner in his original publication describing a series of 11 children with autism who first characterized their parent’s as having “a limited genuine interest in people.” He further noted, “The question arises whether or to what extent this fact has contributed to the condition of the children”. Kanner’s banner was taken over by the notorious fraud Bruno Bettelheim whose book “The Empty Fortress” described the “refrigerator mothers”. Taking his ideas to practice in a residential milieu Mr. Bettelheim advocated for a “parentectomy” which, in effect, separated children from their loved ones.

Unbeknown to many people, Bettelheim’s facade as a Viennese intellectual following the Freudian school, was in many ways a farce. Mr. Bettelheim lacked the authority necessary to sustain any of his ideas. His field of study had been art history and only took three introductory courses in psychology. His self-promotion as a doctor in psychology  was clearly misstated. At the end of his life, suffering from depression and residuals of a stroke, he committed suicide.

Bernard Rimland earned his PhD in psychology in 1953. A few years afterwards, his son Mark was borne. Although suspecting something wrong with him at a very early age, it was his wife who recalled having read similar symptoms in a published case history of autism. From then on Rimland transformed part of his house into a research office and partook in an extensive search of the literature. His initial idea had been tthat of writing a review article to dispel the nonsensical allegations against mothers by the medical community. Five year later his work had clearly surpassed the number of pages required for an article. His wife then proposed for him to purse a book deal. Infantile Autism was thus published by Appleton Century Crofts with a forward by Leo Kanner. At that point Kanner had reviewed the rough drafts of the book and apologized for his remarks to parents at the first Autism Society of America meeting (known initially as the National Society for Autistic Children).

The book “Infantile Autism’ received wide acclaim once published and received the prestigious “The Century Psychology Series Award”. At present the book is being reprinted and it is expected to be released by the end of the summer. The book will include forewords by both Margaret Bauman and Temple Grandin.

At one point in time the lifetime achievement award from IMFAR was going to be named after Bernard Rimland. In a disgraceful turn of events the administrative body of the organization thought the eponym would draw controversy their way and withdrew him from further consideration. Now it remains a nameless award.

Dr. Rimland was the founder of the Autism Research Institute and the Autism Society of America. Throughout his life he stood tall in his fight to change the prevailing views of the medical establishment on autism. Even as late as 1995 Dr. Bennett Leventhal dismissed as “rubbish” Rimland’s concerns of a rising prevalence of autism ( Guess who was right and who had the rubbish opinion?

Stephen Edelson recently wrote an editorial regarding some personal aspects on Bernard Rimland and his book “Infantile Autism” (see: Bernard Rimland’s Infantile Autism: The book that changed autism. Autism research Review International 28(1):3, 2014). This is a useful reference for anybody looking for further information.

8 responses to “Bernard Rimland: Infantile Autism (1964-2014)

  1. When my daughter was diagnosed in 1988 I heard about his book. It was out of print by then and there was no Amazon where you could try to find a used copy for sale. I wrote to Bernie and asked where I could find a copy. He sent me a Xerox copy of his enire book at no charge. It still holds up after all these years. I’ll always be grateful for all he has done


  2. I’m glad they did not name the award after him. Bernard Rimland advocated the idea that there was a true increase in prevalence in autism based on vaccines, yet for some reason was never censured the way andrew wakefield was. He advocated the use of bogus treatments like secretin. He was also a staunch supporter of aversive therapy in the 1960’s and 1970s. He was not the first to dismiss the ideas of psychoanalytics As
    Schain and Freeman in 1961 published work involving hyperserotonemia and autism. I don’t beli3ve that Rimland’s memory should be cherised in any way. Just my opinion, though I know others will feel differently.


  3. Jon you are correct in that he did support a role for vaccines in autism. That is the part of his career from which IMFAR wanted to distance itself. However, his career as an advocate spanned several decades during which he fought the prevailing psychoanalytic view, made Kanner a believer on the neurological basis of the condition, established both the Autism Research institute and the American Society of Autism. He helped countless people individually as they wrote to him and he patiently directed them towards services. He also steered the careers of young people into the field, for example, he played a major role in editing Temple Grandin’s book Emergence. Overall, he was a humble individual yet proud father and husband, who never received the recognition he deserved.


  4. This book on Bettelheim is a must read.
    It’s long out of print,but there are currently a few very cheap used library copies on Amazon.Dr.Rimland was a trailblazer.You may criticize him or advancing disproven treatments like Secretin,but unfortunately none of what we know today about autism,and GI disease,mitochondria,DNA methylation,autoimmunity,etc was known forty,fifty years ago.


    • As a strange side story to your comment, the book itself is among the most frequently reported stolen at libraries. If you find one of the old copies, keep it. They usually go for $90 to $350. The new edition is expected to be published by the end of the Summer.


      • The publication date has been moved to December 21, 2014 (according to Amazon). There should be no more delays as it was meant to be published as the 50th anniversary edition.


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