A Video History of Autism: Bernard Rimland and the Biological Basis of Autism
You'd think Leo Kanner would be the figure in autism history I'd have the most mixed feelings about, wouldn't you? He was the first doctor to diagnose someone with autism, but he was also the author of the refrigerator mother theory, which has been remarkably destructive. And then he helped to strike one of the most important blows against that theory when he wrote the foreword for Bernard Rimland's 1964 book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior.
But Rimland's own role in the very odd history of autism is even more complex than Kanner's.
He was autism's first parent researcher, shifting his focus after his son Mark was born. By 1964, Kanner agreed with Rimland that autism had a neurological cause, and his endorsement gave Rimland's book authority.
Rimland continued his advocacy for autistic people and their families until his death in 2006. He co-founded the Autism Society of America in 1965. He was an early and powerful advocate for Applied Behavior Analysis and against Facilitated Communication.
He was the primary technical advisor on the film Rain Man.
Unfortunately, Rimland went too far with the idea of a biological cause for autism, and spread wrong ideas that are still doing harm today. He started the Autism Research Institute in 1967. He popularized the idea that autistic children could be "recovered" through diet and vitamins. He advocated for chelation.
And many, many people have been endangered by his belief that autism is caused by mercury in vaccines.