Autism, in the eyes of a father and researcher

Dr. Bernard Rimland is the founder of the Autism Research Institute. In an article he wrote for the Autism Research Review International [2001;15(3):3], he gives an account of his 45-year endeavor to find a cure for autism ñ an endeavor that began when his son was diagnosed in 1956. Although he held a PhD in experimental psychology, Dr. Rimland had never heard of autism at the time of his son’s diagnosis. His son’s pediatrician, with 35 years experience in practice at the time, had never heard of it either. As incredible as it may sound today, Dr. Rimland reminds us that autism was once a rare occurrence.

Dr. Rimland first turned to mainstream medicine, but did not receive much help. At the time, it was believed that autism was caused by mothers who could not express their love for their children. Today, medicine has fortunately discarded that opinion but still denies that there is any biological basis in autism, embracing instead an unlikely genetic theory. Since by definition there cannot be an epidemic of a genetic illness, medicine holds that there is no epidemic here, only increased awareness leading to more frequent diagnosis. Although autism was said to affect only one in several thousand children just a few decades ago, recent estimates place it at one in 150 children.

Dr. Rimland first became interested in studying diet modification and nutritional supplementation for children with autism after hearing of the work that nutritionally oriented “orthomolecular” psychiatrists were doing with other developmental disorders, including childhood schizophrenia (see Brain Allergies, by William Philpott, MD, ISBN 0-658-00398-4 and Mental and Elemental Nutrients by Carl Pfeiffer, Ph.D, MD, ISBN 0-87983-114-6). After extensive research, Dr. Rimland and his associates found that supplemental amounts of Vitamin B6 and magnesium were helpful to many autistic children. As of this year, 18 studies conducted in six countries show the effectiveness and safety of this nutrient combination and yet medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have not endorsed it.

Additional research has shown that dietary avoidance of dairy products and gluten (a protein found in wheat and some other grains) is also beneficial for many autistic children.

Although there are numerous studies today confirming the effectiveness of this therapeutic approach, it continues to lack official endorsement as well.

Vaccines have consistently been implicated as a possible cause of the autism epidemic. Even though this is a very controversial topic and research has never found a definite link between vaccines and autism, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting that there is a connection. Dr. Rimland points out that, in the past ten years, the number of vaccines required for a child in the United States before the age of two has risen from eight to 22 and that a majority of parents can trace the onset of their child’s symptoms to a specific vaccination. As Dr. Rimland also notes, many vaccines contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative. This leads to the direct injection of mercury, “one of the most poisonous substances on earth” in his words, into infants’ bodies.

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