Who is Dr. Bernard Rimland?


By Lisa Ackerman

I am an old timer.  Jeff was diagnosed with autism in 1998. Some folks have more time in this journey while others have less.  There are several reasons why my family formed TACA; first, my son Jeff and the other was Bernie.

Who is Bernie?  Bernie was like an uncle to me; a great and knowledgeable person I sought for advice and answers.  Bernie treated me like family and worked tirelessly for a most important cause.  Dr. Bernard Rimland changed EVERYTHING about autism for the better.

In 1998, I was frantic and needed help.  I came across a phone number which I called and I recall that Dr. Bernard Rimland spent over one hour on the phone with me.  By the end of the call, I felt hopeful.  Wait!  I felt more than hope—I felt empowered.

As it turns out, I learned that Holly had the same experience and it was then that I knew that I was not alone.  The “old timers” like myself and Holly have countless stories of others like ourselves that have had the fortunate experience to have come across Dr. Bernard Rimland.  Quickly, Holly began to refer to Dr. Rimland as the original “Hope Whisperer”.

By the time I had spoken to Dr. Rimland, several doctors had told my family that my 2 ½ year old should be placed in a “home.”  After talking to Bernie, I knew that was not true and autism was not a “game over” diagnosis.  That simple call changed my life forever.

I have always wanted to write about Bernie for years; however, each time I tried, I began to shed tears.  I truly miss him.  Dr. Bernard Rimland passed away on November 21, 2006.  It still seems so unreal that he is gone; I can only imagine how his family feels.  Dr. Rimland’s inspiration was his son Mark who was affected by autism.

In the early 1950’s autism was blamed on bad parenting.  Mothers were described as “refrigerator moms”, a term that described mothers who were cold, unable to form any real connection with their children.  The scientist who reported this hypothesis was later dispelled by one amazing man:  Dr. Bernard Rimland.  He knew this was a completely false theory. His wife Gloria had always been kind and loving towards their children.  He set off to prove that theory wrong and change the view that bad parenting was not to blame for a child developing autism.

mark and bernie

Dr. Rimland founded The Autism Research Institute and The Autism Society of America.  Over four decades, he gathered hundreds of scientists to look at autism and find potential causes, treatments and answers.  He united thousands of families under one premise:  autism is treatable.  He became the godfather of the autism medical movement.

It’s fitting to share this post about Bernie before Father’s Day. He was the ultimate caring dad to his son Mark and thousands of kids like mine.

Here are some videos about Dr. Rimland’s life and inspiration:


Here you can find many tributes to Dr. Rimland’s work: http://www.autism.com/index.php/about_rimland .

Bernie’s number is still on my cell phone’s contact list.  I cannot push myself to delete his phone number.  There are many times I pick up my phone looking to call Bernie; I truly miss his voice and guidance.

Bernie has been a constant driving force for many of us in the autism community.  He challenged us to do the right thing and fight seemingly insurmountable odds.  Today, he is still my “North Star”.

These are two treasured items I keep in my office; I look at them daily.

Lisa loves Bernie         Bernies DAN 2005 introduction

        Bernie collage & daily reminder                         Bernie’s DAN! Conference 2005 Introduction Notes

My message to families living with autism:  If you appreciate groups like TACA, you need to know who Dr. Bernard Rimland was and continues to be in our community.  He taught us so much; therefore, his legacy and work must live on.


13 thoughts on “Who is Dr. Bernard Rimland?

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  1. Thank you so much for posting this. We all need at least one Bernie in our life and for this I am grateful that TACA is here now for families. I know all too well about the challenges and that of feeling alone on the autism journey since 1983. I’ve learned a lot, continue to learn and continue to share knowledge. Thank you TACA for all that you are and all that you do!
    Meghan’s Mom

  2. When everyone else said all was lost for my son because of Autism…Dr Rimland told me that just wasn’t so. He was right 20 years ago, and he is still right today.

  3. I’m also an old timer. My son was diagnosed in 1993. At that time I was told that autism was a “rare” condition and he was probably the only child in my little town of Chippewa Falls, WI (pop: 13,000) to have autism. The psychologist who diagnosed him came all the way from Minneapolis. She said she didn’t know if John would ever be able to live independently or hold down a job. She also said that it was so rare that very little is known about the prognosis; there were so few cases of autism.

    Today of course, every grade school in Chippewa Falls has kids with an ASD label. I know because I’ve worked with a lot of them. The real tragedy is that 20 years after my son was diagnosed, babies continue to fall victim to autism—and no one cares. No one demands an answer. Sadly, Bernard Rimland was a rare individual. The vast majority of doctors are happy to be ignorant.

    Here’s what the NY Times said in his obituary in 2006:

    Bernard Rimland, who overturned conventional theories about the origin of autism in the 1960s and later forced scientists and policymakers to consider alternative causes and treatments, died last Tuesday in El Cajon, Calif., near his home in San Diego. He was 78. In 1985, after retiring from his day job as a Navy researcher, Dr. Rimland’s research and ideas made him perhaps more prominent and took him outside the scientific mainstream. He published papers on the effects of high doses of vitamin B6 for autistic children. Tens of thousands of parents have said the vitamins helped their children, but most academic researchers have been skeptical. . . .

    They have been equally unmoved by Dr. Rimland’s argument that childhood vaccines with trace amounts of mercury are a major cause of autism. Yet parents, journalists and patients’ advocates have rallied against the vaccines and forced changes in legislation in some states, altering the shots.

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism

    1. He diagnosed my daughter in 1992. One in ten thousand? Whew we have come a long way, if you can call it going anywhere. I am an old timer. I was researching the dangers of vaccines at the time I came across a connection to autism. I will always appreciate his open response to me when I suggested that he add a question about vaccines to his diagnostic tool. I will remember meeting him and how he introduced me to another mother who was sure the MMR caused her son’s autism. I often wonder how things might be different today if he was still alive. I remember how he traded his book for mine. Always thinking always looking and always open to ideas and the truth. I remember a conversation I had on the phone in 1992, after he diagnosed her with severe Kanner’s syndrome. I said, but she looks so normal. He said that was autism.

  4. Wow … wish I had the privilege to meet and talk (listen 😉 ) to him. What a beautiful man and tribute you gave 🙂
    ~ Cara

  5. I too am an old timer on this autism journey and remember defending him up against a very prominent psychologist who in front of a large Regional Center professional seminar calling him a quack. Dr. Rimland gave me the courage to stand my ground and listen to my gut and not the so called professionals who refused to think they may not know everything. Both he and my own father have now past but I will remember both fondly on this Fathers Day. Thanks Lisa for always keeping it real for us and always offering — Hope!

  6. Wonderful comments! We’re not only following in Bernie’s very substantial footsteps, we’re continuing his journey, along the path that he pointed out to us.

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