Autism – Present Challenges, Future Needs
Why the Increased Rates?
Congressional Testimony – April 6, 2000
Dr. Bernard Rimland
My name is Bernard Rimland. I am a research psychologist (Ph.D.). and am Director Of the Autism Research Institute, which I founded in 1967. I am also the founder of the Autism Society of America (1965), and the editor of the Autism Research Review International. My book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implication for a Neural Theory of Behavior (1964) is widely credited with changing the field of psychiatry from its claim that autism is an emotional illness, caused by destructive mothers, to its current recognition that autism is a biological disorder. I have lectured on autism and related problems throughout the world, and am author of numerous publications. I served as primary technical advisor on autism for the film Rain Man.
My son Mark was born in 1956. It was obvious from birth that this perfectly normal-looking infant had something drastically wrong with him. I had earned my Ph.D in experimental psychology 3 years earlier and had never encountered the word autism. Our pediatrician, with 35 years of experience, had never heard of autism either. Autism was extremely rare then – it is extremely common now.
Some supposed experts will tell you that the increase reflects only greater awareness. That is nonsense. Any pediatrician, teacher or school official with 20 or more years experience will confirm what the studies tell us: there is a real increase in autism and the numbers are huge and growing. The epidemic is serious and world-wide.
Soon after my textbook on autism was published in 1964, I began to hear from other parents. Many parents told me that their children were normal until getting a triple vaccine – the DPT shot. In 1965 I began systematically collecting data on the symptoms and possible causes of autism: In 1967-33 years ago-I began querying the parents, specifically about the child’s response to the DPT shot. Many had reported marked deterioration.
During the past few years the Autism Research Institute has been flooded with an upsurge in pleas for help from parents throughout the world—from wherever the World Health Organization vaccine guidelines are followed. The majority of these parents say their children were normal until getting the MMR – another triple vaccine.
Let me dispel several myths promoted by those who deny the autism-vaccine connection:
They claim the vaccines are safe, but physicians are indoctrinated to disbelieve claims of harm and are not trained to recognize nor required to report any adverse reactions. From 90% to 99% of the adverse reactions reported to doctors are never reported by those doctors to the government’s extremely lax Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, known as the VAERS.
They say that the suspected linkage between the MMR vaccination and autism has been disproved by a study conducted by Brent Taylor and his colleagues in London, and published last year in The Lancet. The Taylor study is seriously flawed in many ways, as had been noted in a number of letters to the editor of The Lancet and in a number of additional letters on the subject which have been posted on the internet. It was subject to strong attack at a recent meeting of the British Statistical Society. I have been a full-time researcher my entire professional life, for almost 50 years, and I respectfully asked Dr. Taylor for a copy of the data so that I could reanalyze them. He refused this ordinary professional courtesy, and I have subsequently written to the editor of The Lancet requesting that an impartial committee be asked to reexamine Dr. Taylor’s statistical methods. If he refuses again, I urged The Lancet to retract his paper.
They say that autism has a large genetic component, and therefore vaccines must play a minimal, if any, role in the causation of autism. My book Infantile Autism, published in 1964, was the first systematic attempt to marshal the evidence for genetics as a contributing cause of autism, so I am certainly not hostile to that idea. However, genes do not begin to account for the huge increase in the incidence of autism, ranging from 250% to 500% in various places. I might add that we have just reviewed all of the recent genetic studies for the next issue of the Autism Research Review International, which I edit. The results are spectacularly inconsistent. The best guess is that there are at least 20 different genes involved in the causation of autism. Gene therapy is decades off, and may be infeasible.
They claim that autism naturally occurs at about 18 months, when the MMR is routinely given, so the association is merely coincidental and not causal. But the onset of autism at 18 months is a recent development. Autism starting at 18 months rose very sharply in the mid-1980s, when the MMR vaccine came into wide use. A coincidence? Hardly! See the graph below.
Autism is not the only severe chronic illness which has reached epidemic proportions as the number of (profitable) vaccines has rapidly increased. Children now receive 33 vaccines before they enter school – a huge increase. The vaccines contain not only live viruses but also very significant amounts of highly toxic substances such as mercury, aluminum and formaldehyde. Could this be the reason for the upsurge in autism, ADHD, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus and other chronic disorders?
As a parent and as a full-time professional researcher, I am bitterly disappointed with the medical establishment’s dismal record with regard to autism over the past 60 years. The medical schools, as well as the governmental agencies, have consistently supported outmoded, unproven and even disproven theories from the very beginning, and have actively opposed the most promising approaches for the treatment of autism. They supported the psychoanalytically-based theories which held the mother responsible for causing autism through her supposedly hostile attitude toward the child. They opposed the use of behavior modification, the most uniformly beneficial treatment for autism, by claiming that it neglected the deep-seated emotional blocks that were supposedly at the root of autism. They have ignored, and continue to ignore, the long series of studies conducted both in the U. S. and Europe showing that the elimination of foods containing gluten and casein from the diet brings about marked improvement in many autistic children. They have consistently ignored the series of 18 consecutive studies, conducted by researchers in 6 countries, which showed that almost half of all autistic children and adults respond favorably to high doses of vitamin B6 and magnesium., with no adverse effects. Eleven of these studies were double-blind placebo-crossover experiments. There is no drug that comes close to B6/magnesium in terms of safety, efficacy and positive research findings.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on non-productive lines of research, while virtually no money at all has been given to research on the methods of alternative medicine, which are far more promising in terms of both safety and efficacy.
The most interesting questions are not being asked: Why does the majority of the population survive such epidemics as autism, the bubonic plague, Legionnaires’ disease, polio and AIDS, while relatively few succumb?
The answer is that the survivors have a healthy, effective immune system. Would enhancing the immune system decrease the likelihood of adverse reactions to vaccines (including the anthrax vaccine – DOD please note!)? Very probably.
It is well known that the immune system must be adequately supplied with many nutrients if it is to function properly, including especially vitamins A, C, E, B6 and a number of minerals, including zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Nutritional levels of these substances are not only harmless, they are essential to good health. Since people do not change their diets readily, I believe that foods should be fortified with these nutrients – especially foods that will be consumed by infants and children. Research along these lines – as well as on the safety of the vaccines – is desperately needed.
As a parent and a researcher, I believe there should be a marked redirection of effort and funding, along the lines suggested above.