Bernie Rimland , along with his wife Gloria, have a special place in my heart. Twelve years ago this month he died. Mr. Rimland was an ordinary parent who lived an extraordinary life. More than sixty years ago, his son Mark Rimland was born. When his wife Gloria gave birth to Mark, Bernie sensed that something was drastically wrong. Mark looked fine, but he made a habit of screaming, wandering around, and did not want to be held or cuddled. Their pediatrician could not make sense of Mark’s symptoms, despite his 35 years practicing medicine.
After her son turned two, Gloria remembered a psychology text she had read in college. The author discussed children who did not act like other children; rather they acted differently, like Mark. Her husband went out to their garage and started digging through a pile of dusty old boxes. There he found the text; Mark had something called autism.
Rimland, who had recently earned his Ph.D. from Penn State University in the field of psychology, proceeded to find out everything he could about autism. At that time, knowledge about autism was in its infancy and parents were frustrated by doctors who didn’t know or didn’t care. Dr. Rimland had found his passion.
In 1964, Dr. Rimland published Infantile Autism. Sales of his book soared, and parents throughout the world wrote him, sharing their suggestions and seeking his advice on how best to help their children. To help with his work, many parents completed the checklist found in the back of his book and mailed it back to him. Soon, Dr. Rimland and a small group of parents established the Autism Society of America to spread information about the treatment of autism.
Rimland was not afraid to question medical doctors and Ph.D.’s. He was not content to simply study autism research; rather, he critiqued it and found fault with much of the data. His book offered new theories and research. He questioned the idea that autism is a disease. Unlike many professionals of his era, he did not blame the parents of autistic children; he knew better. Up until the wee hours of the night, he responded to parents’ email and discussed treatments on the phone. He even found time to be a technical advisor for the 1988 movie, Rain Man.
To quote Dr. Stephen Edelson, Director of the Autism Research Institute, Dr. Rimland brought “hope to an entire world of children once dismissed as hopeless.” He also disproved the ridiculous but widely held theory that parents’ shortcomings and child-rearing practices were responsible for their children’s autism. Lastly, he and Gloria raised an amazing son, who is now in his 60’s. Besides being an accomplished writer and artist, Mark likes listening to music, has a great sense of humor, and loves to get out and visit friends.
Please note: I am currently writing a book about my entire family and how we have grown over the years, in large part because of Jimmy. My son Jimmy is a middle-aged adult on the autism spectrum. The voices and perspectives of my two daughters and wife as well as other friends of Jimmy are included throughout. It is a real, uplifting, and remarkable story; one which I have wanted to share for a long time. The book will be published in the not too distant future.
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