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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.

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Comments

krmo Sept. 13, 2008 @ 10:37 a.m.

Thank you to Joe Deegan and the Reader for the article ("Autism at the eye of the storm"september 10,)My son has autism.He will be 19 years old next month.At 15 months he started losing speech and was developing behavioral problems.There was not much information available then.Dr Rimland was available to answer my questions that no one else could.The one thing he told me and i now tell other parents is "dont give up, and dont let anyone tell you your child is incapable of doing somthing.My son did not talk again until he was ten.The behaviors stopped!He was able to express his needs,he was no longer crying and frustrated.He continues to improve all the time.My son and others like him are extremely intelligent.He can tell you the date and facts on any disney movie ever made.Has a photographic memory,yet cant hold a simple conversation. Micheal Savage is an idiot!He knows nothing about autism,or have any idea what it is .I would have love someone to tell me my child just a was a brat!At least i could have done somthing to fix that.Parents of these children have enough to deal with.Is there any way we can duct tape this mans mouth shut? Lets see just how he acts when cant talk!!!! Kristin Molina (Ricky Gilberts Mom)

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a2zresource Sept. 13, 2008 @ 6:18 p.m.

The mind is a very complex thing, actually many neural organs in one relatively compact package.

It has been a long time since I worked with children who were considered "learning handicapped", and as this is a rather broad classification, there were a number of them who would in this age would be considered autistic.

I agree that it helps to not give up. While not autistic, there was one who was nearly catatonic. My miracle of joy after many, many weeks of contact came in getting him to actually smile...

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