This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of “Infantile Autism” by Bernard Rimland (see previous blog: https://corticalchauvinism.com/2013/02/21/bernard-rimland/). 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Rimland). 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.