Rimland, Bernard 1928-2006

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Rimland, Bernard 1928-2006

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born November 15, 1928, in Cleveland, OH; died of prostate cancer, November 21, 2006, in El Cajon, CA. Psychologist, researcher, and author. Rimland is widely regarded as the man who modernized the study and treatment of childhood autism. He was a graduate of San Diego State University, where he earned a B.A. in 1950 and an M.A. in 1952. He then completed his Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University in 1954, quickly returning to his favorite home city. Here he was a director at the U.S. Navy Personnel Research Laboratory until 1973. Named director of the Applied Psychobiology Program that year, he continued to work for the Navy until 1983, when he would focus on his own research. Rimland first became interested in autism after the birth of his son, Mark, who was diagnosed with the illness. At the time, psychologists believed in the conclusions of Bruno Bettelheim, the psychologist who blamed autism on mothers who had lacked emotional attachment to their children. Rim-land knew his wife was a loving, attentive mother, and dismissed the conventional wisdom as ridiculous. He set out to research the little-understood illness for the next five years, publishing his conclusions in the landmark book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior (1964). The psychologist saw autism as being caused by neurological birth defects, which he attributed to mercury poisoning that was the result of vaccines being used at the time. He campaigned to have the heavy metal removed from such drugs, but met with resistance from the government and medical community. Now on a mission to make autism better understood by parents and physicians, he founded the Autism Research Institute in 1967, as well as the Autism Society of America. Rimland’s work showed that autism was a much more common mental illness than previously believed, and it is now believed to affect one in every 175 children in America. The psychologist saw this as a growing epidemic related to environmental pollution. He developed behavioral therapies, first advocated by psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas, to treat the disease that many saw as very effective. Also coeditor of the book Modern Therapies (1976), Rimland will be remembered as the father of modern autism research.



Chicago Tribune, November 29, 2006, Section 3, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2006, p. B14.

New York Times, November 28, 2006, p. C20.

Times (London, England), January 9, 2007, p. 48.