I ask Kabler to compare childhood behaviors that result from too much parental permissiveness with those that are genuinely autistic. “They’d be completely different,” he says. “Nonautistic children could be, as Michael Savage says, bratty, always yelling, for instance, ‘I want this and I want that.’ But they’re not going to be sitting in the corner screaming and rocking up and down or running around in a circle.” There are the other classic symptoms of autism too, the absence of social interaction, repetitive activities, and difficulties with language.
“On the message boards of the autism community,” Kabler continues, “people couldn’t believe that someone would be taking a national audience back to the Bruno Bettelheim days, when autism was blamed on parenting. Today we know that autism is not a psychological disease, that there are underlying biological issues which can be addressed to help the child. Everyone who has close contact with autism knows that these children are not brats, that a lot of them are in severe pain, and their behaviors are how they express that pain or get their wishes out.”
It seems, I tell Kabler, that regarding diseases, folks often want to find some human factor to blame. “You know,” he says, “there have been many divorces among autism families, where one parent blames the other. At our conferences, we’ve been getting 80 to 90 percent moms. With the diets and interventions we recommend, the dads often said, ‘Whatever, I don’t believe this.’ But that’s getting better and we’re seeing more dads.
“Dr. Rimland always used to encourage people never to give up trying to improve the lives of their autistic children. You never can tell when they will suddenly improve. Autistic people have come out of their shells suddenly in their adult lives.”
Kabler shows me an institute chart called “Parent Ratings of Behavioral Effects of Biomedical Interventions.” The chart lists, among other things, the number of parents reporting and whether drugs or nutrients caused their children to get better or worse. Thirty-six percent of parents reported that Prozac, for instance, made their children better, while 32 percent said it made them worse. For Ritalin, it was 29 percent better, 45 percent worse.
Rimland, says Kabler, was a great believer in the efficaciousness of natural substances. “He told me,” says Kabler, “ ‘The bodies of autistic children are not suffering from an absence of Ritalin.’ Of course, drugs like Ritalin sometimes have to be used to prevent a violent child from hurting himself or others in his family. But natural substances are usually better.” The parental ratings chart reports: 56 percent of children taking fatty acid supplements getting better, while only 2 percent got worse; and 60 percent of those receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy got better, while 5 percent got worse. Magnesium, for years a favorite of Rimland, shows 29 percent getting better and 6 percent getting worse.
Gloria Rimland still lives in the family home in Kensington. After her autistic son Mark, she had a son and a daughter. Neither she nor Mark likes giving interviews, says Kabler, who compensates by telling me of an event long ago. “At a banquet, an otherwise well-meaning woman sat down next to Gloria and said, ‘You must feel terrible that you caused your son’s autism.’ ”
The truth, it seems, is that both father and mother gave their son every ounce of their energy to improve his life. Though Mark Rimland had early difficulties with language, according to Kabler, today he speaks normally, albeit without total control of pitch. He has become an accomplished artist. I am looking at his lovely watercolors that hang high on the wall of the Autism Research Institute.